A tragedy still unfolding has thrust “Mother” Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina into the spotlight, as well as its pastor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney. However, this historic congregation — one of the first A.M.E. congregations, has seen its share of hardship over the past two centuries, with faith and fortitude seeing it through the darkest days. Here are 10 facts you need to know about the church and its now deceased pastor, to understand Mother Emanuel’s unique place in American history:
1) In 1816 Black members of Charleston’s Methodist Episcopal Church withdrew over disputed burial grounds and under the leadership of Morris Brown, formed a circuit of 3 churches of people of color affiliated with the newly established African Methodist Episcopal Church. Emanuel’s congregation grew out of the Hampstead Church, located at Reid and Hanover Streets.
2) In 1822 the church was investigated for its involvement with a planned slave revolt. Denmark Vesey, one of the church’s founders, had organized plans for a major slave uprising in Charleston. The plot was foiled by an informant, and Vesey was hanged, along with 36 enslaved people.
4) Parishioners rebuilt the church after fire and worshipped there until 1834, when South Carolina outlawed all-Black churches.
5) The congregation had to continue worshipping underground until 1865, when the church formally reorganized. It was then that the name “Emanuel” ( meaning “God is with us”) was adopted.
6) Richard Harvey Cain, who served South Carolina as a Republican representative to Congress from 1873–1875 and 1877–1879, had led Emanuel after the Civil War. During his tenure the church was “one of the strongest political organizations in the state.”
7) Today Emanuel A.M.E. is the oldest AME church in the South.
8) It houses the oldest Black congregation south of Baltimore.
9) The current church building is a Gothic Revival-style structure built in 1891.
10) The current pastor is Clementa C. Pinckney, who is a Democratic state senator in South Carolina. Born July 30, 1973 in Beaufort, S.C., he has served in the state senate since 2000, and before that he served in the state house of representatives. His wife is Jennifer Benjamin and his 2 children are named Eliana and Malana.
USA Today is reporting that Pickney is among the casualties of a mass shooting at Mother Emanuel A.M.E.