Thousands gather at Statehouse to pay respects to Sen. Clementa Pinckney

COLUMBIA—The crowd that poured onto the Capitol grounds to mourn Sen. Clementa Pinckney on June 24 was a tribute not just to him, but to each of the victims shot at Emanuel AME Church last week.

Thousands of mourners stood together for hours on a brutally hot day, waiting patiently for the chance to pay their respects. Strangers struck up conversations, sharing fans and umbrellas against the sun; showing through their actions once again that even though an act of hate had brought them there, it had no place in their midst.

“We wanted to show our respect not only to Rev. Pinckney, but to all those affected. And to show hate doesn’t win; love wins,” said Sandra Johnson, from Columbia.

Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone and several of his fellow religious were among the massive crowd who came to demonstrate their support to the families and the community. They included Fathers Richard Wilson, Bernard Kyara, Gary Linsky, Renard West and Andrew Trapp; Will Frei, seminarian; and Sister Nancy Hendershot, CSA.

bishop003-watermark-webWhen Barbara Thompson, from Summerton, grew faint and dizzy from the heat, the priests standing near her reacted quickly to help. Father Wilson found a police officer who placed a pack of ice on her neck while the bishop gave Thompson water and led her to a bench to rest.

Thompson said she has poor health and it probably wasn’t the best idea to stand for hours in the heat, but she wasn’t about to leave.

“I’ll make it with prayer,” she said, adding that the experience was well worth it. “If everybody in the world was as nice as the people I’ve come across since I’ve been here, it would be a better world.”

Horace Gillins from West Columbia and Margaret Grayson from Greenville came to support the campaign that all lives matter, and pointed out the historical significance of the day, noting that Pinckney is the first African-American to lie in state since Reconstruction. The last person to lie in the rotunda was former Gov. Carroll Campbell in 2005.

Pinckney’s widow Jennifer and his daughters, Eliana and Malana, followed the casket into the Statehouse. Senators and House members took turns standing by the casket, each wearing a blue-and-white ribbon with the state crescent — a symbol of unity made by State Sen. Katrina Shealy. They greeted the public with handshakes and hugs, often struggling against tears themselves.

In the background, a black drape covered the large second-floor window and blocked the view of the Confederate battle flag, dangling listlessly from a pole on the Statehouse grounds.

bishop002-watermark-webPhotos of Dylann Roof, the accused killer, often feature him holding a gun and the Confederate flag, making it a flashpoint in the tragedy.

Although many wish to let the family mourn in peace, without the divisiveness that swirls around the flag, conversation inevitably turns to it. As Bishop Guglielmone stood in line, he noted that the battle flag is one of many issues that must be addressed in the healing process.

For many in the crowd, the shootings brought back memories of Civil Rights battles and how people joined together in unity against evil, then and now.

Patricia Cokley, 65, said she brought her grandson, Damion Cokley, 12, and his friend, Kevin Gleaton, 15, to pay their respects and teach them perspective on what it means to stand up in the community.

“I want to look back and say I made a difference in this time,” said Gleaton.

It’s a good start.

The funeral for Sen. Pinckney, pastor of Emanuel AME, will be held at the TD Arena on June 26. President Barack Obama is scheduled to deliver the eulogy and memorialize the other eight victims: Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, the Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, the Rev. Daniel Simmons, the Rev. Sharonda Singleton, and Myra Thompson.

Funerals for those members of AME Church will be held today and through Monday.


Photos: Miscellany/Mic Smith