Vigil for Charleston Church Shooting Victims Dispersed by Bomb Threats

South Carolina has a long history of hate crimes against African Americans, says Efia Nwangaza of the Malcom X Grassroots Movement

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Story Transcript

SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

A gunman walked into an historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina and killed nine people. Before the shooting, the gunman told the victims, “You rape our women, you are taking over our country, and you have to go.” Charleston police officials have called this a hate crime. The Washington Post deemed this massacre the deadliest attack on a place of worship in the United States in 24 years. Police say a suspect was arrested on Thursday morning and taken into custody.

Joining us now from Greenville, South Carolina to discuss this tragic event is Efia Nwangaza. Efia is the executive director of the Afrikan-American Institute for Policy Studies and Planning, and the South Carolina coordinator for the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement for Self-Determination.

Efia, thank you so much for joining us on this sad and tragic day.

EFIA NWANGAZA, AFRIKAN-AMERICAN INSTITUTE FOR POLICY STUDIES AND PLANNING: Thank you for the opportunity to participate in the discussion.

PERIES: So let me get a sense from you, Efia, you’re there in South Carolina. How is the African-American community converging around this?

NWANGAZA: There are varied responses. Earlier today it was announced and called for by the prelate of the African Methodist Episcopal Diocese for prayer vigils across the state. So I of course attended the one here in Greenville, which was quite solemn and sad. It however was cut short by a bomb threat, which brought to the surface the frustration for some, and the anger for others.

In the streets there is a great sense of outrage that not only has the black community been assaulted, but that a place of worship has been violated. Even church people, people of faith who ordinarily are given to speeches about love and forgiveness, as was the case in the prayer vigil, have second thoughts about the treatment that ought to be addressed, and that justice, the call for justice, is arising more and more frequently. That it’s not enough to talk about forgiveness, there’s not enough to talk about healing, but that only healing and forgiveness can come with justice.

PERIES: Now Efia, Mother Emanuel is the oldest African-American Methodist Episcopal church in the South. It opened its doors in 1816. What do we know about its history? I know a lot of people are talking about the significance of the history, so I was hoping that you could add something to that discussion.

NWANGAZA: Well, the African Methodist Episcopal Church started out of protest, so it’s always maintained a posture of protest. And even in its name, to hold on to the reference and the identification as an African Methodist as opposed to Colored Methodist or United Methodist is in and of itself an act of resistance and of protest.

The calling of ourselves as anything other than African is a modern invention, beginning with the early formations of say the NAACP and other organizations of that ilk. We began calling ourselves colored, and negro, and black. And during the age of the black power movement was a move back towards reclaiming our essence and our identity. It was somewhat derailed with Jesse Jackson’s call for the reference of African-American. But more and more of us are beginning to refer to ourselves as black and as African. The AMEs have always held to our Africanity, certainly in their religious practice and in their identification of their spiritual belief system.

PERIES: Now, I understand that one of the people that helped build this church was implicated in a slave revolt plot. That history must be also evoked at this time.

NWANGAZA: Yes, indeed. And that level of militancy goes along and is indicated in the insistence upon retaining the name African Methodist Episcopalian. Denmark Vesey is the person to whom you make reference, and to whom others are making reference. Vesey was a freed man, he was a blacksmith, he was committed to the liberation of African people and the abolition of slavery. He, his spirit remains strong, especially in the Gullah/Geechee Nation and in the Charleston coastal area of South Carolina. The Stono Rebellion is the site where the weapons were obtained and used to advance the struggle for black liberation in South Carolina, and is a point of particular historic reverence and a go-to place in South Carolina.

The tradition of militancy and community engagement we enjoyed in 1993 when I along with a local colleague, Rose Sitton, organized the fourth annual conference for the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, N’COBRA. And as a part of that conference we visited the Stono Rebellion site and various other sites, historic sites in South Carolina. And it is out of that conference that the spirit of the modern-day reparation movement emerged.

We were able to also bring here Queen Mother Moore, who was the spirit, the godmother, the long-holding spirit of the reparations movement. That church, Mother Emanuel hosted that conference, and it allowed us to be imbued and immersed in the history and the struggle that the reparations movement is based on.

PERIES: Also I wanted to bring our attention to what President Obama had to say in a press conference this afternoon.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Now is the time for mourning and for healing. But let’s be clear. At some point we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency.

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PERIES: Your response to what Obama had to say?

NWANGAZA: Well, that’s a general reference to the violent nature of the United States, which was born of violence. Stolen labor on stolen land is the essence of the United States. So if Obama is serious about dealing with the question of violence then he’s going to have to deal with the history and the being and existence of the United States.

He’s already stated that he’s opposed to reparations, so he can hardly be serious about healing and about mourning as it relates to black people and the racialized violence that this instance, this massacre visits on us as a people, as black people and on, and the blood that continues to grow on the hands of this country.

PERIES: Efia Nwangaza, she’s the executive director of the Afrikan-American Institute for Policy Studies and Planning. Thank you so much for joining us today.

NWANGAZA: Thank you for having us.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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