S.C. Sen. Clementa Pinckney, a Jasper County Democrat who served in the General Assembly for 18 years, died Wednesday after a shooting in the downtown Charleston church where he was the pastor. He was 41.
Pinckney was among nine victims that Charleston police say were killed by a lone white gunman at Emanuel AME Church, one of the oldest African-American churches in the South.
“He was the most kind, gentle man in the Senate, and I am not just saying that now,” said state Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington. “He was quiet ... until he spoke with that beautiful Barry White voice. His words were always well thought out, not just words. He always stopped by to ask how you were doing and shake your hand or pat you on the back. He was a good man.”
State Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, said Pinckney went back to the AME church Wednesday after lawmakers finished work for the day in Columbia.
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Kimpson said Pinckney wanted to attend a meeting to plan a conference. That meeting had ended, and some members stayed for a Bible study that the shooter participated in, Kimpson said.
Pinckney, Kimpson said, “was the moral conscience of the General Assembly.”
“He will be dearly missed, but it’s up to us as elected officials to use this as an opportunity to bring healing to the nation and double our efforts to foster race relations in the state,” Kimpson said in an interview Thursday morning near Pinckney’s church.
Earlier this year, Pinckney helped build support for a bill that will pave the way for S.C. police officers to have body cameras, a proposal that gained momentum after Walter Scott, an unarmed North Charleston black man, was shot and killed by a police officer.
“It was his speech on the Senate floor about togetherness and belief that we can do better that brought the body-camera bill to passage and garnered largely bipartisan support,” Kimpson said. “He was a moral leader of the Senate, and when he spoke, people listened.”
Pinckney’s desk in the state Senate was draped Thursday with black cloth, per tradition on the passing of a senator.
Pinckney was known for his extensive work on behalf of the African Methodist Episcopal church, said state Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland.
“He was a man with a booming voice and notable presence, but always a peaceful, calming presence,” said Rutherford, the House minority leader. “He did not want to pick fights. Even when I was pushing him to pick a fight on the Jasper Port, he said, ‘No, we need to do it a different way.’ ”
Pinckney grew up in Jasper County and lived in Ridgeland, even though his church is in Charleston. He came from a family of preachers – several of whom fought for civil rights, according to published reports.
He was ordained at 18. He served as a pastor at Youngs Chapel AME Church in Irmo, Jericho and Porter’s Chapel AME Churches in Beaufort, Mount Horr AME Church in Yonges Island and Campbell Chapel AME Church in Bluffton.
He started working at Emanuel AME in 2010.
Pinckney also became a politician at a young age.
He has elected to the House of Representatives in 1996 at age 23 after serving as a page in the State House. After serving two terms, he won a seat in the Senate in 2000 at age 27.
Pinckney said his youth was an advantage.
“I’m not set in my ways and not set in old ways,” he told The (Charleston) Post and Courier in 2001. “Just like slavery needed to die out, old ideas need to die out. Being young allows me to be open-minded.”
Pinckney was a member of the Senate’s finance, education, banking, corrections and medical affairs committees.
He told the Charleston paper that he received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Columbia’s Allen University in order to be able to better run his churches. He also earned a master’s degree in public administration from the University of South Carolina.
He leaves a wife, Jennifer, and two young daughters, Eliana and Malana.
“I always felt God had called me to serve within the church because of what the church stands for,” Pinckney told The Post and Courier in 2010. “This has always been home.”
S.C. Legislative Black Caucus on death on Sen. Pinckney
“It is with heavy hearts that we, (the) S.C. Legislative Black Caucus, mourn the death of our colleague Sen. Clementa Pinckney. His life and the lives of eight others were taken in an act of domestic terrorism. The horrific events of last evening may have shaken our resolve but we are standing strong. We have lost a mighty statesman and man of God who will long be remembered for this integrity and servant nature.
“Sen. Pinckney was a servant leader who used his life to demonstrate his passion and love for his God and his community. A man of grand stature in appearance and spirit, Sen. Pinckney was a voice of reason for those ... he served. Since his time in the Legislature, Sen. Pinckney has brought positive change to not only the lives (of) the residents of Jasper County, but also to the lives of everyone he touched.
“Our prayers and love go out to his wife Jennifer and two children Eiliana and Malana and family members. We also pray for the families of the other eight victims, the community as well as the entire Mother Emanuel AME Church family.”