June 17, 2015
On June 17, 2015, an evening of Bible Study ended in tragedy for a group of the church’s clergy and members who welcomed a 21-year-old white supremacist to fellowship with them. After sitting with the group for about an hour, the young man opened fire, killing nine of the twelve who gathered there, forever changing the lives of the victims’ families, the lives of the survivors, and the lives of everyone touched by the story of their response.
In the wake of the devastation of June 17, 2015, the faith of the Emanuel Nine, their families, and the survivors illuminated the way forward: it would be by the unending grace of God.
“To heal we must forgive. That’s what I’ve learned this past year…So much hate. Too much. But as scripture says, ‘Love never fails.’ So, I choose love. Hatred…Racism…Injustice. We can’t hide from these truths. Together we can fight for change. Together we can heal. Together we can love.” – Polly Sheppard, Survivor
The loving forgiveness espoused by the survivors of the Massacre and the family members of those slain helped to initiate an atmosphere of hopeful reconciliation that spread throughout the Charleston community and touched those who heard the survivors’ stories. The tragedy of that day gave birth to beautiful acts of kindness and meaningful community initiatives that helped people touched by the tragedy to heal to unite in their grief.
The Massacre at Mother Emanuel remains the deadliest mass shooting in South Carolina’s history and one of the deadliest racially motivated mass shootings in modern American history.
“This memorial will honor the Emanuel Nine and celebrate the grace in forgiveness from the victims’ families, spirit of resiliency shown by the survivors, church members, the community of Charleston and the world by coming together as one. Ultimately it will inspire people and communities everywhere to rise above racism and overcome hate with love.”
– Rev. Eric S.C. Manning, Pastor, Mother Emanuel AME Church
The Memorial History
The inspiration for the memorial design is drawn from remembering the lives and sacrifices of the Emanuel Nine: Reverend Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Mrs. Cynthia Graham Hurd, Mrs. Susie J. Jackson, Mrs. Ethel Lee Lance, Reverend DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Kibwe Diop Sanders, Reverend Daniel Lee Simmons, Sr., and Mrs. Myra Singleton Quarles Thompson.
The memorial design reflects the powerful and inspiring way in which the Emanuel Nine family members summoned their faith to reverse the spread of hate with a message of unyielding love and forgiveness.
As Michael Arad, the memorial designer, began to create the design, he gathered with the families of the victims, survivors, and members of the congregation to hear their stories. During his visits to Charleston, Arad developed a connection to the members of Mother Emanuel as he listened to their remembrances of the family members and friends they had lost. In their stories, Arad found inspiration, and the Memorial began to take shape.
The Emanuel Nine Memorial design draws the grounds of the church into this larger context, inviting “a dialogue between visitor and place, its past and present,” architect Michael Arad explains.
Family members of the Emanuel Nine say they hope the Memorial will bring people together to resolve their differences, reverse hate, end gun violence, and work toward justice with resolute love and compassion.
The Emanuel Nine Memorial honors the lives of the Mother Emanuel Nine. It celebrates love and forgiveness from the victims’ families and illustrates the spirit of resiliency shown by the survivors, church members, the Charleston community, and the world. The Memorial should motivate people and communities everywhere to eradicate racism and inspire greatness from all humankind.
Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church
Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, known informally as “Mother Emanuel” because of its place as the oldest African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in the South, was first organized as a congregation in 1791 by a group of free and enslaved Black members who left a white-led church with the desire to worship freely and without discrimination.
The congregation soon affiliated with the newly-established African Methodist Episcopal church, the first independent Black denomination in the United States. In 1822, white community leaders learned of a revolt planned by enslaved Blacks led by one of the congregation’s founders, Denmark Vesey. In retaliation,, the church was burned to the ground, and 35 members, including Vesey, were executed.
The congregation rebuilt the church and met there until 1834 — when all Black churches were outlawed by the state legislature. Undeterred, members bravely continued to meet in secret until the end of the Civil War in 1865, when they formally reorganized and adopted ‘Emanuel,’ meaning God with Us in Hebrew, as their name.
The church’s storied history continued throughout the 20th century as esteemed local and national civil rights leaders, including Septima P. Clark and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., took to the pulpit to encourage members of the Black community in their fight for equal rights. Over the years, Mother Emanuel has remained an enduring icon of strength, providing a spiritual gathering place for social and political activism.
Today, the church maintains an international reputation as a symbol of forgiveness and grace.
With seating for 1,200, Mother Emanuel has the largest seating capacity of any African American church in Charleston. The church was added to the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places in 1985.
Hours of Operation
Monday-Friday 9:00 am to 5:00 pm
Sunday 9:00 am to 1:00 pm
The Emanuel Nine Memorial Foundation
The Emanuel Nine Memorial Foundation – established by a group of community and business leaders inspired to take action to honor those who were killed in the tragedy – is a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization that operates as a separate legal entity from Mother Emanuel with an independent 501c3 designation.
In addition to leading the charge of designing, constructing, and maintaining the Memorial, the Memorial Foundation will soon develop and implement outreach programs focused on developing anti-racism curriculum for students in South Carolina and beyond.
Memorial Foundation Board
The Memorial Foundation is guided by a dedicated Board that manages the fundraising, construction, endowment, and outreach for the Memorial.
Rev. Eric Manning, Co-Chair
Senior Pastor, Mother Emanuel AME Church
John Darby, Co-Chair
CEO, The Beach Company
Thomas Anderson, Treasurer
Vice President of Marketing, The Beach Company
Timothy Brown, PhD
Assistant VP, Academic Programs, Trident Technical College
Area Executive, TD Bank
Board of Trustees, Mother Emanuel AME Church
Councilman Dudley Gregorie
Member, Mother Emanuel AME Church
Manager, South Carolina Office on Aging
Helen Hill, Secretary
CEO, Explore Charleston
Wilbur E. Johnson
Managing Parnter, Clements Rivers, LLP
Survivor of June 17, 2015 Shooting
Vice President, First Capital Bank
Reverend Anthony Thompson
Author and Pastor, Holy Trinity Reformed Episcopal Church
As a working committee of the Memorial Foundation, the Memorial Design Committee is charged with advising the Memorial Board on the tribute’s design and construction.
History of the Emanuel Nine Memorial
Prior to the formal establishment of the Emanuel Nine Memorial Foundation, The Beach Company partnered with with Mother Emanuel AME Church to form an Executive Committee and a Memorial Design Committee to lay the groundwork for building the memorial.
Emanuel AME Memorial Executive Committee
The executive committee established the mission for the memorial, set up the 501c3 organization, and began fundraising efforts.
Rev Eric Manning
Senior Pastor, “Mother” Emanuel A.M.E. Church
CEO, The Beach Company
Emanuel AME Church, Board of Trustees
Dr. Maxine Smith
Memorial Project Co-Manager, Public Relations, Emanuel AME Church
Dr. Brenda Nelson
Director, Mother Emanuel Empowerment Center
Councilman Dudley Gregorie
Emanuel AME member, Charleston City Council
Advocate for Social Justice
Memorial Design Committee Members
A Design Committee of Charleston area arts professionals was created to establish design principles for the memorial, and to guide the search for the memorial’s architectural designer.
First Poet Laureate of Charleston, SC, graphic & web designer, videographer and musician
Memorial Project Co-Manager, Vice President of Marketing The Beach Company
Dr. Timothy Brown
Dean, Humanities and Social Sciences, Trident Tech
Emanuel AME Church member
Dr. Karen A. Chandler
Dir., Avery Research Center for African-American History and Culture Assistant Professor of Arts Management, College of Charleston
Landscape architecture, town planning, and urban design services
Director and Chief Curator
Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art
Janet Kagan, Founding Principal of Percent for Art Collaborative
The Emanuel Nine Memorial Foundation welcomes inquiries from community members interested in helping to uplift our message of remembrance, reflection, and resilience.
To learn more about how you can get involved with our efforts, please use this form to contact us.
We are grateful for your interest in supporting our work in designing, completing, and maintaining the Memorial, and we look forward to hearing from you.
Mother Emanuel Memorial Foundation
P.O. Box 242
Charleston, SC 29403