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Emanuel Nine, plus survivors and church, honored in SC African-American History Calendar

Emanuel AME Church in Charleston
Emanuel AME Church in Charleston gmelendez@thestate.com

This year’s South Carolina African-American History Calendar, being formally unveiled Tuesday, is dedicated to the Emanuel Nine and survivors, along with historic Emanuel AME Church’s past and future.

The annual calendar, first launched in 1989, is sponsored by AT&T. It was originally created as a teaching tool to record overlooked and forgotten history for the state Department of Education but has evolved into an African-American history hall of fame. It has since emerged as a global resource for recognizing the achievements of African-Americans with South Carolina ties. The web site – www.SCAfricanAmerican.com – also includes information on past honorees, as well as resources for educators and links to other materials related to South Carolina’s African American history.

Among the nine people killed last summer during an evening Bible Study were pastors, a librarian, teachers, activists, an Army veteran, a musician, parents, a state senator and servants of God. Here, edited for space, are the calendar entries.

Sharonda Coleman-Singleton

January

Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, an assistant pastor at Emanuel AME Church, spent her life making a lasting difference in the lives of young people.

A native of Newark, N.J., where she graduated from Vailsburg High School in 1987, Coleman-Singleton enrolled at S.C. State University to pursue a bachelor’s degree in speech pathology and audiology. Outside the classroom, she was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and an award-winning hurdler. She helped propel the S.C. State’s track-and-field team to a conference championship. After completing her undergraduate studies, she went on to attend Montclair State University and obtained a masters in speech language and pathology.

Coleman-Singleton began her professional career as a speech and language pathologist in schools in Georgia, before moving in 2008 to Goose Creek High School, where she was head coach of the girls’ track-and-field team. Over the next seven years she gained a reputation for encouraging, mentoring and determinedly advocating for the young women she coached.

A faithful Christian, Coleman-Singleton was a lay minister at Emanuel, working with the youth and young adult ministries.

But Coleman-Singleton’s greatest pride was her family, especially her sons and daughter: Christopher, Caleb and Camryn Singleton. A doting mother, she was involved in their education and enjoyed cheering on the Gators at Goose Creek events, as well as for the Buccaneers of Charleston Southern University, where Christopher went on to play baseball.

Among the more than 2,000 mourners at her funeral were Gov. Nikki Haley and Civil Rights leaders Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.

Cynthia Graham Hurd

February

For over three decades, Cynthia Graham Hurd helped her community and neighbors connect with the resources and opportunity found at the public library. Children, especially, knew she was always ready to help them – whether they needed homework assistance or a new book “just right” for a beginning reader.

A Charleston native, Hurd attended James Simmons Elementary School and the High School of Charleston. Graduating from Clark Atlanta University in 1984, she returned home and launched a 31-year career with the Charleston County Public Library. After earning a masters in library information sciences at the University of South Carolina, she became manager of the John L. Dart Library in 1990 in the Charleston neighborhood where she grew up. In 2011, Hurd was promoted to lead the St. Andrews Regional Library, one of the busiest branches in the county’s system.

Outside her professional work Hurd was active in her community, serving as a board member of the Charleston County Housing Authority for more than 20 years. She was also a board member of Septima P. Clark Corp., a nonprofit that gives small grants to resident programs for those in public housing. Hurd was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and spent time working part-time at the College of Charleston’s Addlestone Library. She was a life-long member of Emanuel AME Church.

After her death, the College of Charleston renamed its Colonial Scholarship, a full academic scholarship for in-state students, the Cynthia Graham Hurd Memorial Scholarship. In addition, the Charleston County Public Library changed the name of the St. Andrews Library branch she managed to the Cynthia Graham Hurd St. Andrews Regional Library.

Susie J. Jackson

March

Susie J. Jackson, 87, lived a life full of energy and love for her family and fellow church members.

A member of Emanuel AME Church for many years, Jackson was a fixture at Sunday services and Wednesday night Bible studies. She served as a trustee and as an usher. She sang in the adult choir for many years and later enjoyed being a member of the church’s senior citizens group.

Jackson attended Buist Elementary School and Burke High School in Charleston. She was one of six sisters and four brothers and married to the late Walter Jackson. She and her husband raised their son, Walter Jr., on Charleston’s east side, and she later raised a daughter, Annette Jackson. When Walter Jr. moved out of the house, Jackson displayed her “good Samaritan” spirit and offered his room to two young people in her neighborhood who needed shelter.

Close friends and family recall that as an octogenarian Jackson was healthy, active and showed no signs of slowing down. She adored her three grandchildren and eight great grandchildren. She never missed a graduation because she was very passionate about education.

Jackson was kind-hearted, often giving of her time and resources. Her home was warm, inviting and always a popular place to have good food, fellowship, and fun.

Two weeks before her death, Jackson took a trip to see a cousin’s graduation and visit her son and grandchildren in Cleveland, Ohio. This trip was a little different because she decided to leave cards with her great-grandchildren for their upcoming birthdays. She would normally have mailed them from her home in Charleston. It was as if she knew she would not see them again.

Jackson’s legacy of love and service to others has touched many people who have come to appreciate her as a dedicated servant of God.

Ethel Lee Lance

April

The life of Ethel Lee Lance, 70, epitomized loyalty, consistency and dedication to serving others. Born in Charleston where she and her husband Nathaniel Lance raised their family, Lance was a lifelong member of Emanuel AME Church. She took great pride in her church, working as a custodian and helping keep its facilities clean for five years. Whether she was working, attending church services or studying her Bible, Lance was at Emanuel AME nearly seven days a week.

Lance was a hard worker, and in 1968 when Charleston’s Gaillard Municipal Auditorium opened, she began working there as a custodian and worked there until she retired in 2002. She loved to take her family to see gospel performances at the auditorium when she had a night off. Two of Lance’s daughters even had their wedding receptions at the Gaillard.

A matriarch by all accounts, she was devoted to her family’s well-being. She led her family through despair when her husband died in 1988 and when her daughter, Terrie Washington, died in 2013. Brandon Risher, the oldest of Lance’s grandchildren, remembers her as a symbol of love. Other grandchildren recall that she firmly encouraged them to succeed, and always served grits and bacon for breakfast. Lance’s loving family includes five children, six grandchildren and four great grandchildren. She never had the opportunity to see her youngest great-grandchild, Jonquil Lance Jr., who was born just before the tragedy.

Her funeral at Royal Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston was attended by Civil Rights leaders such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, and by political leaders such as Gov. Nikki Haley, U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford and Charleston Mayor Joe Riley. The choir sang “One Day at a Time,” Lance’s favorite gospel song. Her daughter said the song gave her strength in difficult times.

The Rev. DePayne Vontrese Middleton

May

The Rev. DePayne Vontrese Middleton, 49, of Hollywood was born into a family of faith and ministers. In addition to powerful oratory skills, she also had a talent for singing and shared this gift with many congregations and choirs in the Charleston area. When she decided to become a minister, she served at Mt. Mariah Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston before she ministered at Emanuel AME, which she joined in March 2015.

The queen of her high school, Middleton earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Columbia College in 1989, and a masters in organizational management from Southern Wesleyan University in 1994.

In 2005, she retired as the Charleston County director of the Community Development Block Grant program. In 2015, she began working for Southern Wesleyan University, her alma mater, as admissions coordinator for the school’s Charleston learning center. An experienced grant writer, she also worked for local and state agencies in various roles and as data manager/analyst for the Medical University of South Carolina. She twice managed the Charleston’s Census Bureau office.

She was the mother of four daughters: Gracyn, Kaylin, Hali and Czana. They were her life’s priority, and she instilled in them a passion for education, adventure and individuality.

Middleton lived a life dedicated to her Christian faith and to helping others. A co-minister recalled that any time Middleton encountered someone asking for prayers, she would promptly stop and pray with them on the spot.

Gov. Nikki Haley, Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley and Civil Rights leader Jesse Jackson attended Middleton’s funeral. The service concluded with clapping, praise and singing, the release of a flock of doves and the hymn, “When We All Get to Heaven.”

The Rev. Clementa Carlos Pinckney

June

The Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, 41, lived much of his life in Ridgeland, but he left a positive impact as a pastor and statesman far beyond rural Jasper County. As pastor, he served thousands of parishioners in many South Carolina churches, and he was a leading member of the South Carolina Senate.

Born into a family with a legacy of church leadership and civil rights activism, Pinckney graduated magna cum laude from Allen University, where he was elected president of the freshman class, senior class, and student body. He was named one of America’s top college students by Ebony Magazine and received a Princeton University Woodrow Wilson Summer Research Fellowship in the fields of public policy and international affairs. He received a graduate fellowship to the University of South Carolina, where he earned a masters in public administration.

At age 13, Pinckney felt called to become a pastor and was ordained at age 18. After completing his studies at Allen and USC, he earned a Master of Divinity from Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary. He led churches across the state before becoming the senior pastor at Emanuel AME Church in 2010. At the time of his death, he was pursuing a doctorate at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington D.C., which was awarded posthumously.

Pinckney was the youngest African-American ever elected to the S.C. General Assembly, becoming a state representative at 23 and a senator at 27. He became known for quietly leading by example, advocating for health care and education issues, and passionately opposing gun violence.

A gifted orator, Pinckney was a humble public servant with a calm demeanor, a devoted husband to his wife, Jennifer, and loving father to his daughters, Eliana and Malana. President Barack Obama eulogized Pinckney at his funeral, attended By Vice President Joe Biden, Gov. Nikki Haley and numerous dignitaries and church leaders.

Tywanza Kibwe Diop Sanders

July

Tywanza Sanders, 26, was a young, vibrant man with many talents and interests who was willing to give his life for another.

Born in Charleston, “Wanza” was known for his broad, ready smile and positive outlook on life.

Sanders graduated from James Island Charter High School in 2006, where he was a member of the Trojan football team, Future Business Leaders of America and other student organizations. Sanders also filmed home basketball games for the school’s broadcast journalism news team. After high school, he earned a degree in business administration from Allen University, where he was known as a serious student committed to his education. While at Allen, he balanced coursework, part-time jobs and membership in student organizations like the National Association of Black Accountants and the National Black MBA Association.

Upon graduation, Sanders returned to Charleston and, while holding two jobs, began making plans to attend graduate school. In his spare time, he enjoyed writing rap lyrics and poetry and participated in poetry slams. At the time of his death, he was in the process of publishing his own book of poetry titled “Tragedy,” addressing themes of violence, poverty and inequality. Sanders played the keyboard and other instruments and enjoyed skateboarding and acting.

When Sanders wasn’t studying or working, he could often be found at Emanuel AME Church studying the Bible with his tight-knit community of family and friends.

Sanders’ final act was one of selfless heroism. As gunshots rang out at Emanuel, he stepped in front of his great aunt, Susie Jackson, giving his life in an attempt to save hers. Fittingly, Sanders’ and Jackson’s lives were celebrated in a joint funeral, which was attended by hundreds of mourners including Gov. Nikki Haley.

The Rev. Daniel L. Simmons Sr.

August

The Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr. was a gentleman, a leader, an avid proponent of education and a servant of Christ. A fourth generation preacher who worked diligently to expand the AME Church, he was affectionately recognized as the spiritual heart of the Seventh Episcopal District, earning him the name “Super Simmons from the Super Seventh.”

Simmons and his wife Annie Graham Simmons had two children, Daniel L. Simmons Jr. and Rose Ann Simmons. He earned a bachelor’s in education administration from Allen University in Columbia, a masters in social work from the University of South Carolina and a Master of Divinity with a concentration in Leadership and Theology from Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia.

Simmons was senior pastor at eight different AME churches over thirty years and dedicated his life to teaching the truth of God’s Word. He wanted everyone to experience a vibrant relationship with Christ and walk in God’s will. Simmons initiated new programs and outreach ministries, enhancing the communities he served as pastor. At Greater Zion AME Church in Awendaw, he launched the first hot meal program, open to all citizens. After serving his country honorably in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, Simmons was dually employed by the S.C. Department of Corrections as a teacher and a counselor. Simmons also worked with Greyhound Bus Company as one of the first black drivers hired during the early 1970s, Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, Department of Veterans Affairs and the Vocational Rehabilitation Center.

After retiring in 2013, he was asked by the Rev. Clementa Pinckney to join the ministerial staff of Emanuel Church, where he continued to teach and help develop the church’s leadership team. Simmons was a member of several organizations, including Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity and Capital City Lodge No. 47.

Simmons stressed the importance of education to his children, grandchildren and other young people. Simmons loved jazz music and the visual arts. He was a man of great intelligence, determination and responsibility, qualities that enabled him to leave a legacy of faith and compassion.

Myra Singleton Quarles Thompson

September

Charleston native Myra Singleton Quarles Thompson joined Emanuel AME Church as a young child, beginning a lifetime of devotion to the church and its members. Her deep faith and love for the church’s members led her to study to become a minister, and just before her death, her preaching certificate was renewed.

One of 16 children, Thompson attended Livingstone College where she was a member of the marching band. She later transferred to Benedict College where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English education and became a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority. She furthered her education at the Citadel Military College of Charleston where she earned a Master of Education in reading and a second degree of Master of Education in school counseling. Thompson was a retired Charleston County school counselor and teacher where she taught at Brentwood Middle School in North Charleston for many years.

She was married to the Rev. Anthony B. Thompson, vicar of Holy Trinity Reformed Episcopal Church in Charleston. Her two children, Kevin Singleton and Denise Quarles, and two grandchildren were her pride and joy.

Thompson was widely known among her fellow church members for her passionate devotion to the maintenance of the church in which she grew up. As a long-standing member of Emanuel’s property committee, Thompson took a personal interest in caring for the church facilities. From replacing light bulbs in sanctuary chandeliers, to helping with the renovation of Emanuel’s parsonage, Thompson was involved in helping ensure that Emanuel’s physical condition reflected the spiritual condition of members.

Thompson’s funeral service was held at Emanuel Church. Hundreds of people wrapped around the Calhoun Street block and crowded the sanctuary to pay their respects to the family. Among those in attendance were U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, Gov. Nikki Haley, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, and David A. Swinton, president of Benedict College.

Survivors: Jennifer Pinckney, Felicia Sanders, Polly Sheppard

October

Among the victims of the Emanuel AME Church shooting are five survivors – three adults and two children who have shown incredible grace in becoming examples of powerful forgiveness for Charleston and the nation.

As an example, Polly Sheppard, a retired nurse and Emanuel AME Church trustee, was participating in the Bible study the night of the tragedy. Displaying tremendous grace throughout, she stated in an interview, “… And (God) left us here to do something, be a light to someone else.”

Jennifer Pinckney, wife of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, and their daughter Malana, who was 6 years old at the time of the shooting, were blocked in the pastor’s study adjacent to the hall and room where the shooting took place. Jennifer Pinckney serves on the Women’s Coalition for Common Sense, which focuses on engaging women leaders in preventing gun violence. She is intent on carrying out her husband’s legacy of supporting public education and health care access through The Honorable Reverend Clementa C. Pinckney Foundation, which she founded.

Emanuel AME Church

November

Established in 1816, the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is the oldest AME church in the Deep South and a historic symbol of faith, community building, and resistance to slavery and racism.

The Rev. Morris Brown, one of the first ordained pastors of the AME denomination and its second bishop, organized black members of Charleston’s Methodist Church to leave that denomination due to racial discrimination. The establishment of Mother Emanuel, then known as Hampstead Church, and two other AME churches changed the city’s social and religious landscapes. Within two years, more than three-quarters of black Methodists in Charleston, roughly 4,000 people, had left their segregated churches to join the AME church due to its emphasis on education, racial uplift and self-determination.

After the Civil War, Robert Vesey, son of one of the church’s founders, Denmark Vesey, designed a wooden, two-story church at the present site to replace the original facility which had been burned. Christened “Emanuel,” meaning “God is with us,” the building was badly damaged by the August 31, 1886 earthquake. The existing Gothic Revival-style church, built in 1891, retains the original altar, communion rail, pews and light fixtures.

Emanuel’s legacy of social activism continued to grow throughout the 20th century as the church welcomed many local and national Civil Rights leaders, including Booker T. Washington, Septima P. Clark, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Rev. I. DeQuincey Newman. Coretta Scott King and Andrew Young led black nurses and hospital workers in a march from the church steps during a labor strike in 1969. As a state senator and pastor, the late Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney was a vocal advocate for the poor.

During his eulogy of the Rev. Pinckney, President Barack Obama described black churches as bunkers for foot soldiers in freedom struggles and “places where children are loved and fed and kept out of harm’s way, and told that they are beautiful and smart – and taught that they matter.” There is no better example of that than Mother Emanuel.

Moving forward

December

In the aftermath of the shootings, Emanuel received a tremendous outpouring of love and support and sympathy. People from around the world visited to offer condolences, hold prayer vigils and place letters, cards and flowers at the church.

Nadine Collier, daughter of Ethel Lance, one of the nine victims, captured the community’s response and the loving spirit of Emanuel in three powerful words. “I forgive you,” she told the shooter during a court hearing. “You took something very precious from me … but I forgive you.”

On June 26, 2015, President Barack Obama, in his eulogy of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, said the attack on Emanuel was more than a singular moment of incivility, but rather marked a new chapter in the history of American racism. Choking back tears, he called for Americans to avoid slipping into a “comfortable silence” that eases tension in favor of direct action in pursuit of justice.

In the weeks following, many people spoke out and organized protests against the white supremacist ideologies and symbols that apparently motivated the perpetrator. On July 10, 2015, at the urging of state and national leaders, and following heated debate within the General Assembly, the Confederate flag was removed from the S.C. State House grounds in Columbia, coming down to shouts and tears from the watching crowd. The events echoed across the country as activists called for the removal of other Confederate monuments and new policies to address issues such as public school segregation, affordable housing, and poverty.

One year later South Carolinians statewide still mourn but remain hopeful that change is happening as the Emanuel congregation strives to be at the forefront of efforts to bring healing and live out the challenge posed by a banner which hung outside the church: “Let us be the example of love that conquers evil.”

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