On the evening of June 17, 2015, a mass shooter took the lives of nine African American people at a Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The massacre at a historic Black church deeply shook a nation already jaded by frequent gun violence and heralded the return of violent white nationalism in America.
Among the victims was the activist and state senator Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the church's senior pastor. Carrying on Emanuel AME's legacy as a center of civil rights organizing, Pinckney was a vocal advocate for police accountability who had made national headlines for his response to the murder of Walter Scott by a police officer in North Charleston the previous April. The shooter, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, joined Pinckney and members of his congregation for a Bible study session on the night of June 17, before drawing a gun, telling the others that African Americans were "taking over the country," and opening fire. According to one survivor, Roof tried to shoot himself but had run out of ammunition and fled instead. He was arrested the following morning in North Carolina and, after an investigation and trial that brought to light his radicalization and intense white supremacist beliefs, sentenced to death.
Mass shootings were common in the United States by 2015, but the Charleston massacre was a clear act of white supremacist violence that came as the nation slowly realized its racism problem was getting worse, not better. Then-president Barack Obama, who knew Pinckney, delivered the eulogy at his funeral, leading the assembly in the singing of "Amazing Grace."
The next several years would be marked by more horrific white nationalist violence in America, including the murder of Heather Heyer during a right-wing rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 and a 2018 shooting at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life Synagogue that claimed eleven lives.
READ MORE: Charleston's Emanuel 9 Memorial: Balancing Education With Healing