This Mother Emanuel AME Church has a very long and rich history in the African American liberation movement. Denmark Vesey, one of the most celebrated leaders of African American slave rebellions, was a founder and member of this church. After the 1822 rebellion led by Denmark Vesey, whose plan was to defeat the slave system and establish a black republic in South Carolina (defending it militarily with the aid of troops from the newly independent former slave nation of Haiti), the Mother AME Emanuel church was burned down by whites.
Thirty five people were executed, including Denmark Vesey. This led to all-black churches being outlawed. The church continued to meet in secret and was reorganized. Dr, King and many other African American leaders spoke at, or made stops at this historic church.
In the 1960’s, Coretta Scott King led a Labor March for black workers which started on the steps of the Mother Emanuel AME Church church. The church’s pastor and 900 others were arrested that day.
This is not some ordinary church, and it would be a very unusual coincidence if this individual targeted this particular church by accident. African American activists and leaders need to pay attention and respond. There may be much more here.
The Mother Emanuel AME Church in South Carolina that was the site of Wednesday night’s massacre is steeped in historic significance for African Americans, stretching from the time of slavery to the civil rights movement.
Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, re-built in 1891, is the oldest of its kind in the South and is listed among the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places.
9 Dead in Charleston, South Carolina Church Shooting and Hate Crime, Gunman at Large
Sadness, Shock Following South Carolina Church Shooting
The place of worship, led by the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, turned into a crime scene when police say a gunman opened fire during a regularly scheduled prayer group. Nine people have been confirmed dead and the shooter remains at large.
Emanuel AME Church, known locally as “Mother Emanuel,” played an large role in the development of the city’s religious community for African Americans in the late 1700s and early 1800s, according to their website.
Historical record associate the original church with a planned slave revolt in the 1820s and the building was burned down during that time.
One of the church founders, well know among African American activists, and those who have studied black history, Denmark Vesey, organized the revolt. Authorities foiled the plot, which created “mass hysteria” in the area.
Vesey was among 35 who were arrested and executed as a result, the Parks Service said.
The church’s website states that it held underground worship services from 1834 through 1865, during which time African-American churches were outlawed.
In 1865, the church was formally recognized and it took the name “Emanuel.”
Roughly a century later it was also a flashpoint for controversy.
As we noted above, Civil rights activist Coretta Scott King led an estimated crowd of 1,500 demonstrators to the church in an April 1969 protest, according to “Civil Rights in South Carolina: From Peaceful Protests to Groundbreaking Rulings.” The demonstrators faced national guardsmen with fixed bayonets.
The Denmark Vesey Slave Rebellion
Denmark Vesey Monument Dedication started at High Noon in Hampton Park just left of the Main Gazebo. It was a wonderful gathering… EXTREMELY EDUCATIONAL!!!
Denmark Vesey (born c. 1767, probably St. Thomas, Danish West Indies—executed July 2, 1822, Charleston, S.C.), self-educated black man who planned the most extensive slave revolt in U.S. history (Charleston, 1822). Sold as a boy in 1781 to a Bermuda slaver captain named Joseph Vesey, young Denmark, who assumed his master’s surname, accompanied him on numerous voyages and in 1783 settled with his owner in Charleston. In 1800, Vesey was allowed to purchase his freedom with $600 of the $1500 he had won in a street lottery. He was already familiar with the great Haitian slave revolt of the 1790s; and while working as a carpenter, he read anti-slavery literature. Dissatisfied with his second-class status as a freedman and determined to help relieve the far more oppressive conditions of bondsmen he knew, Vesey planned and organized an uprising of city and plantation blacks. The plan reportedly called for the rebels to attack guardhouses and arsenals, seize their arms, burn and destroy the city, and free the slaves. As many as 9,000 blacks may have been involved though some scholars dispute this figure. Warned by a house servant, white authorities on the eve of the scheduled outbreak made massive military preparations which forestalled the insurrection. During the ensuing two months, some 130 blacks were arrested. In the trials that followed, 67 were convicted of trying to raise an insurrection. Of these, 35, including Vesey, were hanged, and 32 were condemned to exile. In addition, four white men were fined and imprisoned for encouraging the plot.
The following text is from the Post & Courier article about the event BEFORE the occasion.
But this is Charleston, where the hanging of a portrait of Vesey in the municipal auditorium in 1976 — more than 150 years after Vesey was himself publicly hanged — prompted much criticism, and the theft of the painting.
“It was very controversial,” College of Charleston history professor Bernard Powers Jr. said. “People were writing to The News and Courier expressing outrage that the portrait of a criminal could be hung in a public place.”
The painting was returned, and more securely mounted, after Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said the city would commission a replacement if the painting remained missing.
Powers, a member of the committee planning the Vesey monument, said he smiles every time he sees the painting.
In Hampton Park on Monday, in a clearing not far behind the large gazebo on Mary Murray Boulevard, the Rev. Joseph Darby acknowledged both the strong feelings about Vesey and the day’s chilly weather in his opening comments.
“God ordered this weather for everyone who said it would be a cold day before there was a statue for Denmark Vesey in Charleston,” Darby said.
Riley described Vesey as an important civil rights figure, part of the “substantially untold story of African-American history and life in this community and this country, and their role in building America.”
“We tell these untold stories so the truth will set us free,” the mayor said.
Vesey and 34 other alleged conspirators were hanged in the summer of 1822. Vesey was convicted of plotting a bloody uprising in Charleston, in which enslaved blacks and freed men like himself would take up arms and slaughter the white residents, and then flee to Haiti.
Vesey had purchased his freedom after winning a lottery.
Whether Vesey actually plotted an uprising remains a question debated by historians, with little to go upon but spotty records of the trial. Much of the evidence was testimony from slaves who were rewarded financially, freed, or spared death sentences for their cooperation.
Powers said some questions are unanswered, but he believes the case has been made that Vesey did plan the uprising.
Certainly, South Carolinians had no doubt the insurrection was real.
The foiled uprising prompted the city to establish an armory and militia training ground that became The Citadel and what is now Marion Square, and restrictive laws put harsh new limits on blacks in Charleston, whether enslaved or free.
The planned Vesey monument has been in the works since 1996, with Charleston County Councilman Henry Darby leading the effort.
In 2000, the city of Charleston donated $25,000 and the land, and in 2007, County Council agreed to give $40,000.
While Monday’s event was billed as a groundbreaking, Darby said there’s still about $300,000 to be raised.
The “Denmark Vesey: Spirit of Freedom Monument” has been designed to feature a bronze statue of Vesey and the other ringleaders in the plotted uprising, Peter Poyas and Jack “Gullah Jack” Purcell, standing atop a 5-foot granite pedestal on a plaza.
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