Nine black churchgoers were murdered in Charleston, South Carolina last week by a racist who told them, “You have to go”.
White supremacist Dylann Roof spent an hour in a Bible study group at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church before taking out a gun and opening fire.
Cynthia Hurd, Clementa Pinckney, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Susie Jackson and Daniel Simmons Sr were killed.
Roof reloaded up to five times, telling worshippers, “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country.”
As soon as the shooting was reported commentators admonished people for calling out the killer’s racist motives. Police categorised it as a “hate crime”.
The Emanuel is a church with longstanding links to the struggle against racism in the US (see below). It has the oldest black congregation south of Baltimore. This is why Roof chose it.
The church was founded by a freed slave and carpenter named Denmark Vesey. In 1822, just four years after it was built, he was the leader of an insurrection of slaves which became known as “the rising”.
Martin Luther King visited the church in 1962 to urge black people to vote.
It has emerged that Roof ran a website called The Last Rhodesian where he published a 2,444 word rant outlining his intentions to spark a race war.
He wrote, “I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to whites in the country”.
Pictures soon emerged of him wearing a jacket emblazoned with the flags of the defunct apartheid state Rhodesia and apartheid-era South Africa.
The same commentators who urged caution about his racism were now trying to isolate Roof as a crazed, lone killer without any connections.
Yet on his website he cites the white nationalist Council of Conservative Citizens (CofCC) as influential in shaping his racist ideology.
The CofCC whips up racism by promoting news stories about so-called “black on white” crime. It is a mainstream organisation with connections to the Republican Party.
Its president Earl Holt has donated over £40,000 to Republican presidential candidates. In an article he calls black people “the laziest, stupidest and most criminally-inclined race in the history of the world”.
Roof is also photographed brandishing the Confederate flag. This symbol has its roots in slavery, and white supremacists rally around it. Yet it also flies on the South Carolina state capitol.
Roof is not a one-off. His racism is the same as that which has repeatedly seen black people killed in high profile shootings by police over the last two years.
Charleston - a history of racism and resistance
Reverend Clementa Pinckney—one of those shot down in the racist slaughter last week— knew all about the church’s radical history.
He once told a group of visiting doctoral students, “Where you are is a very special place in Charleston.
“This site, this area, has been tied to the history and life of African Americans since the early 1800s”.
Its founder, freed slave Denmark Vesey, was hanged for planning a slave insurrection. White supremacists burned the original church to the ground shortly afterwards.
Efforts to erect a statue of Vesey in Charleston were met with opposition from racist groups for decades. Many of those groups had historical links to the pro-slavery Confederate army.
A statue was finally erected in Charleston’s Hampton Park earlier this year. Roof attacked the church on 17 June—the same date that Vesey’s planned uprising would have taken place.