Today, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) observes the one-year anniversary of the devastating massacre of nine African Americans at the Emanuel A.M.E Church in Charleston, South Carolina as a result of a hate crime. We will not forget the names of the nine men and women, and the church where they worshipped with an open door and open hearts. We offer our continued condolences to the families and friends of those who died, and to the Charleston community that suffered from this loss.
This somber occasion comes on the heels of the one of the deadliest attacks in modern American history when 49 people were killed nearly a week ago in Orlando, Florida by a solitary gunman. Mass shootings have become all too frequent and familiar in our society. These attacks often reflect an alarming climate of growing intolerance and hatred toward people of color, women, and members of the LGBTQ community. Just days after the Orlando shooting, the Rev. Betty Deas Clark, the new pastor of the Emanuel A.M.E church, traveled to Orlando to stand in solitary against hate and violence.
“The horrific events in Charleston and Orlando demonstrate the urgent need to confront discrimination, intolerance, and hate in our country,” said LDF President and Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill. “We must stand together to combat all forms of discrimination and work to create an America in which no person must fear violence because of the color of their skin, their gender or their sexual orientation.”
Emanuel A.M.E., also known as “Mother Emanuel,” was founded in 1816 and is the oldest A.M.E. congregation of in the South. Because of its founding by Denmark Vesey, who organized an historic uprising of enslaved Africans, Mother Emanuel has come to symbolize freedom and progress throughout the south. The Emanuel Nine were gunned down during a mid-week prayer meeting. The pastor of the church, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who also served as a Senator in the South Carolina legislature, was among those killed. In a service attended by thousands of mourners to commemorate the Charleston Nine, President Barack Obama offered a moving speech in which he invoked and sang the words of the hymn “Amazing Grace.”
In his remarks, President Obama encouraged Americans to work against all forms of discrimination including voter suppression laws, and called on Americans to confront implicit bias, which he said might encourage an employer to “call back Johnny for an interview, but not Jamal.”
“Gun violence has not only reached alarming levels in the United States, but it has found its way into the most intimate and personal areas of our lives—where we worship and recreate,” said LDF’s Associate Director-Counsel Janai Nelson. “The sale of military-style high powered weapons to civilians has become a public health crisis and our society is paying the price with its own citizens.” LDF joins the growing chorus of voices from both political and religious leadership demanding sensible and responsible gun control laws.
LDF was founded on the principle of equal justice under the law. At the core of this principle, is respect for the dignity and humanity of every human being. As our founder Thurgood Marshall once said, “In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute.”
Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.