White Gunman Kills 9 At Historic AME Church-Where Can We Be Black?

Surreace Cox, of North Charleston, S.C., holds a sign during a prayer vigil down the street from the Emanuel AME Church early Thursday, June 18, 2015, following a shooting Wednesday night in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Last night, around 11:30 PM, I had finally decided to get into bed. I made the conscious decision to turn my phone off, as well as the television. It was time to “power down.” I’d had my hand glued to my phone, and I was actually quite ashamed. I had become engrossed in this Rachel Dolezal scandal. But tonight, I had decided that I wouldn’t give her story anymore attention. I wanted to free myself from her. She’d taken up too much of my time, and was beginning to steal my peace. Just as I scrolled through my Twitter feed for the last time, I came across a heart wrenching story. “9 Fatalities at African American Church in Charleston” the headline read.


I scrambled for details. I wanted to know more. I turned on the television. No one was covering it. The only “breaking news” CNN had been reporting was on Rachel, and the prison break we’d been hearing about for a week. Nothing on the Black lives that had just been lost. Taken.

Then I found a link. Shortly after 9 PM last night, a 21-year old white man opened fire on a Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Six women and three men were among the dead. A five year old girl survived after hiding and playing dead. My heart sank.

“We believe this is a hate crime; that is how we are investigating it,” Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said at a dawn news conference.

9 Dead in ‘Hate Crime’ Shooting.” The words echoed in my head. I wondered who else’s heart, soul and mind was empty.


What can you even say to someone at a time like this? How can you comfort someone who’s lost their grandmother, their mother, their father, their friend? How do we make sense of something so senseless?

I cried.

A long, painful, deep cry. I’d been holding back the tears for some time now. The last time I really cried like this was when Tamir Rice died. Shot down by police for playing with a toy gun…while Black. His mother had to bury him. He was 12. I guess that wasn’t too long ago…

Emanuel AME is a staple in the Black community. There is a rich history.

Built in 1891, the church is listed on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places. Affectionately called “Mother Emanuel” by local residents, it’s easy to understand the connection people had with the church. Perhaps what stands out most about this church’s history is one of its founders, Denmark Vesey.

Vesey was responsible for organizing a slave revolt back in the 1820’s, and lost his life, along with 34 others because of it. They were killed by police. The church was burned to the ground.

Even as this community was forced to sift through the ashes of their own church, forced to remember the venom, the horror, it didn’t stop them from gathering. After the mass hysteria that occurred when Denmark and other leaders of the movement were arrested, members held underground worship services from 1834 through 1865. During this time, African-American churches had been outlawed.

Black people could not pray to their own GOD without fear of being harassed, arrested, and without a doubt, ultimately killed. Some white folk didn’t want Black people conspiring to be free. As I write these words, it pains to me to know that we still can’t worship in peace, and most importantly, we still aren’t “free.” History repeats itself.

So I thought, “Where CAN we be Black, and where is God now?”

As we mourn, I wrestle with these concepts. My mind shifts to the Four Little Girls in Birmingham, Alabama. I think about my parents. My grandparents. My aunts and uncles. It could have been them. It could have been any of us. Five decades later, our experiences run parallel.

No, I am not being made to sit in the back of buses, I am not being attacked by dogs, or sprayed with hoses, but the trauma, the Black experience, the disregard for Black life is still present. It still makes the air thick, and it still presses on our lungs, and we still…can’t…breathe.

Sometimes I wonder what it must be like to be white in America. I close my eyes and imagine all the things I wouldn’t have to worry about. I imagine being able to play outside with a toy gun, I imagine being able to walk down the street (and take up most of the sidewalk), I imagine being able to wear a hoodie. I imagine being able to use slang and not have people think I’m uneducated, being able to wear my hair how I choose. Being able to yell, being able to drive at night, being able to walk into fitting rooms without the store employee counting your items three times, “just to be sure.” I imagine the freedom of being able to express myself without being the “Angry Black woman”, the convenience of not being the only Black person at work, the privilege of getting the benefit of the doubt…among the most basic things…the freedom to PRAY.

WHERE can we be Black?

“You’re taking over our country!” the shooter screamed, before he killed nine people in cold blood. The shooter was 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof.


This isn’t new. Disgruntled whites all across the nation have been telling Black people to “Go back to Africa” since we got here. (Well not exactly since we got here. They wanted us here earlier on to pick cotton, build this country and breast feed their babies…but you know, after that, some of them had gotten tired of us.)

September 1963, Montgomery, Alabama, USA --- Adult members of the Ku Klux Klan and White Citizens' Councils join teengers protesting school desegregation in Montgomery. The Supreme Court ordered Montgomery and other Alabama cities to desegregate schools in 1963. --- Image by © Flip Schulke/CORBIS



Roof is one of those people. He’s tired of Black people “taking over” his country, and raping his women. He’s tired of all of our lowsy contributions to these United States- the light bulb, traffic light, the gas mask, 3D graphics, blood banks and open heart surgery. Nobody cares about air conditioning units, cell phones, doorknobs, hair brushes and stoves, right?

WHERE can we be Black?

Now politicians and law enforcement are asking that the people of Charleston remain calm and nonviolent. I don’t have a problem with nonviolence, but I DO have a problem with people asking BLACK people to be nonviolent. Especially in instances where they are the victims of violence at the hands of the state or racist terrorists. When is enough, enough? How much more of our blood has to spill into the streets, our homes, our churches?

There’s no doubt that Roof be coddled by mainstream media. He almost certainly won’t be given the ‘terrorist’ label he deserves.


As this story continues to unfold, and we continue to try and heal our wounds, we know that the wounds will be re-opened soon. We know that this will happen again. We cannot CHANGE the minds of racists.

So where can we be safe? Where can we go to fellowship, celebrate, and love on one another? Where can we go in this land, that has our ancestor’s blood on its hands? When will the assault on our bodies, our culture, our psyche be over? Where can we go to exist? WHERE can we be Black?



6 thoughts on “White Gunman Kills 9 At Historic AME Church-Where Can We Be Black?

  1. Carmen…as I type these words with tears running down my face…I’m having difficulties placing my thoughts into words…this piece was very well-written, as we share in the same pain. Ive been crying…for days. Weeks. Months. In vain, as to no avail, right as I’m beginning- not to heal, but rather search for peace, that peace is taken away and I’m tragically forced to feel the pain…over. And over. And over… again. Continue to write. To cover these stories. Because while people like you and I actually do our research and stay informed, there is a lost generation where social media is the only news they look to. They need to be informed. Educated. Aware and prepared. So keep writing, my friend. That maybe your articles will reach thousands of young people so that they may prepare for this inevitable war in America that is soon to come.

  2. “You’re taking over our country!” the shooter screamed, before he killed nine people in cold blood. The shooter was 21-year-old Dylan Storm Roof.”

    Very good article! I guess Native Americans (Indians) share the same feelings about the English who took over this county! Being Black in our minds in recognition of our will, perseverance, pride. This may be best achieved through education, business ownership, parenting, managing our finances and caution where we spend our money. GOD will assist the rest!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. You have written a powerful piece here ! Addressing facts that continue to get pushed behind the unattractive head line titles that the public pays close attention too. Racism is one thing; mainly beyond our personal control. These hate crimes against black people and children with bare minimum consequence is unacceptable. The “government” will have a new understanding of anti vigilance if things don’t change ASAP. And, because things can’t and won’t change fast enough, black people who respond (in any form) will still seem like the problem to the majority of the white public. I say majority, because I do believe there is good in all groups of people. Nevertheless, WHAT DO WE DO? As a people ? As a society ? As a country ? As a human race ? Change needs to come!!!!!

  4. This was a PHENOMENAL piece. I share every sentiment and quite frankly I am angry. I was hurt over the last year and all of the senseless acts of violence but this– this angers me. Because we have nowhere to be black. This is not home. They have deemed us unwanted guest and have treated us as such since enslaving us. Thank you for writing this. Thank you for using your voice. You have POWER. Thank you for using it to reach the world

  5. This is an excellent article. The problem with a lot of Blacks in America is they are in denial about the continued enslavement. It’s all in the mind. The system is set up to keep us in bondage by keeping some in society depending on the government for their support, allowing our children not to be educated equally, and building more juvenile detention centers and prisons. This system is designed to keep as many of our young men and women locked up as long as possible.
    And we either see it and have turned away or we have blinders on. We’ve been brain washed to believe that as African-Americans we have over come since we’ve been allowed to buy a big house and the hill and a Mercedes or BMW. Oh, the scam that has been run and is still being on us. There’re a lot of underlining messages that we are missing. Why does someone feel they need to tell you, oh I have one Black friend or I’m friends with Black people alone should open our eyes and cause us to look at the big picture. So the question is still, Where can we be black? Apparently, that is not an option some in society want bestowed on us.
    This is an excellent article. It needs to be published in USA Today, Time, Ebony, Essence, online magazine, and Newspapers all over the country.

  6. It’s funny when you ask the question “where can we be black?” the only acceptable place seems to be on TV.
    When I read this article it doesn’t make me want to cry like some say. It makes me want to fight!

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