In Charleston, Racial Healing Meant More Than Hugs and Unity Marches

As the first anniversary of the 2015 church massacre neared, public shows of support masked private tensions. But cracks were appearing in the city’s segregated silos.

Editor’s note: Four years ago today, 21-year-old white supremacist Dylann Roof opened fire during a Wednesday evening gathering at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, a historically black congregation in Charleston, South Carolina. Nine members of the church, including its senior pastor, were killed. Charleston-based journalist Jennifer Berry Hawes writes about the slaughter and its aftermath in Grace Will Lead Us Home: The Charleston Church Massacre and the Hard, Inspiring Journey to Forgiveness. The following is an adapted excerpt from her book.

To mark the first anniversary of the attack on Emanuel, hundreds of people gathered in Charleston’s Marion Square, from which they’d march toward the church and, beyond it, to a circle of trees planted at the Gaillard Center in memory of those who died. There, they gathered beneath a white tent to hear from Bernice King, the youngest daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King. The year after a white racist shot and killed her father, her mother led 1,500 protestors to Emanuel in support of the city’s striking hospital workers in 1969.

She recalled how her father used to say that people feared each other because they didn’t really know each other. Even now, during this march, people had gathered to show unity in this public space, for public consumption. But what about when they went home? When they decided who to invite over for dinner or a beer?

“You have to find ways to come together in private spaces,” King urged.

She paused, letting the message sink in.

“That’s your assignment.”

Subtle Shifts

Indeed, just a few days earlier, a new poll of South Carolinians had revealed that black and white residents …

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