Our history rises up to smite us.
The killings at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church appear to be directly connected to efforts of black people in this county to gain freedom from slavery and to enjoy equal treatment and opportunity.
Consider the words of the founder of this very church before he was hanged on charges of attempted insurrection in 1822.
Denmark Vessy, a former slave who'd purchased his freedom, had an opportunity to move to Africa.
He had a chance to turn his back on slavery in America and go on with his life in peace.
He stayed in South Carolina and was accused of plotting the most elaborate American slave uprising ever, it may have involved five-thousand slaves, which greatly outnumbered whites in the Charleston area.
A co-conspirator gave evidence as to Vesey's motive. “...he was satisfied with his own condition, being free, but, as all his children were slaves, he wished to see what could be done for them."
Vesey was found guilty in a secret trial on the testimony of witnesses who had been tortured. When their sentence to death was passed, it read in part...
“It is difficult to imagine what infatuation could have prompted you to attempt an enterprise so wild and visionary. You were a free man, comely, wealthy, and enjoyed every comfort compatible with your situation. You had, therefore, much to risk and little to gain. Is slavery, then, a thing so intrinsically detestable, that a man thus favored will engage in a plan thus desperate merely to rescue his children from it?”
Vesey and 35 slaves were executed. The church Vesey founded was burned to the ground and authorities in Charleston cracked down on slaves with increased cruelty.
It would be easy to conclude the story of this latest shooting with the arrest and conviction of the one young man who pulled the trigger.
But Dyylan Roof is but a single thread in the tapestry of our collective mindset, and the pattern of his thinking is directly related to the thinking of the men who sentenced Vesey. And that pattern continues to repeat itself in the weave of our communities.
This monument to Denmark Vesey unveiled just last year in Charleston was an effort to publicly erase the memory of him as a threat to white supremacy, and honor him as a champion of freedom and justice.
It's not far from the spot on Ashley Avenue where Vesey was hung from a tree...less than ten minutes from where a young black man, Tywanza Sanders, and eight others were massacred while gathered to pray.
I cannot help but ask Am I too satisfied with my own condition? Am I turning my back because I'm comfortable in my situation?
I have no ready answers, but we must have the conversation. If we want an end to violence, we must lay down our desire to be right, our political positions and our long believed stories.
Do I have the courage to become infatuated with a wild and visionary enterprise?
I'm fascinated to discover little-known stories from history. Stories of people and events that provide a new perspective on why and how things happened, new voices that haven't been heard, insight into how the past brought us here today, and how it might guide us to a better future.
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