Colleen Barry: Michelle Obama Meets US Troops In Italy; Recalls Charleston
Michelle Obama’s thoughts turned to those grieving for nine people killed in a U.S. church as she visited Friday with American soldiers and their families stationed in northern Italy. “We have seen too many tragedies like this,” Mrs. Obama said of the attack in a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina. “There is something particularly horrifying about something that happens so senseless in a house of worship.” She added: “I pray for a community that I know is in pain with the hope that tragedies like these will one day come to an end.” The U.S. first lady was visiting at the U.S. Army Garrison Vicenza, thanking hundreds of the troops and their families for their service.
U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday had expressed anger and sadness over the slayings at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. “As my husband said yesterday, simply saying our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and community of Charleston does not convey the heartache,” Mrs. Obama said. Her time with the troops and their families included reading a book to children, and visiting with about 30 expectant mothers to discuss the challenges faced by military families overseas. The families live in an area that includes housing units and an elementary and middle school. She spent a good half hour giving hugs and shaking hands. Her daughters Malia and Sasha helped her scoop out ice cream. About 500 people were attending a barbecue on the middle school’s athletic fields.
The history of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church reflects the development of religious institutions for African Americans in Charleston. Dating back to the fall of 1787 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Richard Allen founded the Free African Society, adhering to the Doctrines of Methodism established by John Wesley. In 1816, black members of Charleston’s Methodist Episcopal church withdrew over disputed burial ground, and under the leadership of Morris Brown. The Rev. Morris Brown organized a church of persons of color and sought to have it affiliated with Allen’s church. Three churches arose under the Free African Society and were named the “Bethel Circuit”. One of the Circuit churches was located in the suburbs of Ansonborough, Hampstead, and Cow Alley, now known as Philadelphia Alley in the French Quarters of Charleston. Emanuel’s congregation grew out of the Hampstead Church, located at Reid and Hanover Streets.
In 1822 the church was investigated for its involvement with a planned slave revolt. Denmark Vesey, one of the church’s founders, organized a major slave uprising in Charleston. Vesey was raised in slavery in the Virgin Islands among newly imported Africans. He was the personal servant of slavetrader Captain Joseph Vesey, who settled in Charleston in 1783. Beginning in December 1821, Vesey began to organize a slave rebellion, but authorities were informed of the plot before it could take place. The plot created mass hysteria throughout the Carolinas and the South. Brown, suspected but never convicted of knowledge of the plot, went north to Philadelphia where he eventually became the second bishop of the AME denomination.
During the Vesey controversy, the AME church was burned. Worship services continued after the church was rebuilt until 1834 when all black churches were outlawed. The congregation continued the tradition of the African church by worshipping underground until 1865 when it was formally reorganized, and the name Emanuel was adopted, meaning “God with us”. The wooden two-story church that was built on the present site in 1872 was destroyed by the devastating earthquake of August 31, 1886. The present edifice was completed in 1891 under the pastorate of the Rev. L. Ruffin Nichols. The magnificent brick structure with encircling marble panels was restored, redecorated and stuccoed during the years of 1949-51 under the leadership of the Rev. Frank R. Veal. The bodies of the Rev. Nichols and his wife were exhumed and entomed in the base of the steeple so that they may forever be with the Emanuel that they helped to nurture.
This is why people are outraged, frustrated, and disgusted by what Rachel Dolezal did and continues to do. Blackness is not a goddamned costume. You can’t wash away Blackness when the day is over. Blackness is trying to navigate a world where you could be murdered at any time because of the color of your skin. If you aren’t disgusted or turned off by what she did, there is something fundamentally wrong with you
This has been a rotten week for black people.
So was last week.
And the week before.
You see where this is going...