Sunday, June 21, 2015

Charleston Shows a Better Way

by Bill Doughty

The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston is about six miles down the same peninsula as the former Charleston Navy Yard.

The church is site of the vicious murder of nine African Americans by self-proclaimed white supremacist Dylann Roof.

John C. Calhoun, 1849 (photo by M. Brady)
Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is located on a street bearing the name of former Vice President and Secretary of War (Defense) John C. Calhoun. Calhoun was a powerful voice promoting the United States military in the War of 1812. 

Unfortunately, John C. Calhoun was also an avowed segregationist who was pro-slavery to the point of threatening civil war.

Early in James McPherson's "Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era" (Oxford University Press, 1988) the author shows how Calhoun fanned glowing embers of the growing secessionist movement, leading to the war between North and South – over states' rights to own slaves.
"In February 1847, Senator John C. Calhoun introduced resolutions denying the right of Congress to exclude slave property from the territories. 'Tall, careworn, with fevered brow, haggard cheek and eye, intensely gazing,' as Henry Clay described him, Calhoun insisted that territories were the 'common property' of sovereign states. Acting as the 'joint agents' of these states, Congress could no more prevent a slaveowner from taking his human property to the territories than it could prevent him from taking his horses or hogs there. If the North insisted on ramming through Wilmot Proviso, warned Calhoun in sepulchral tones, the result would be 'political revolution, anarchy, civil war."
Northern congressmen voted for the Wilmot Proviso calling for prohibiting slavery or "involuntary servitude" in new territories – including in the expanding West. They passed a resolution calling for abolition of the slave trade in the nation's capital. "These actions enraged southerners, who used their power in the Senate to quash them all." McPherson writes.
"A southern caucus asked Calhoun to draft an 'Address' setting forth the section's position on these iniquities. The South Carolinian readily complied, sensing a renewed opportunity to create the Southern Rights party he had long hoped for. Rehearsing a long list of northern 'aggressions' – including the Northwest Ordinance, the Missouri Compromise, state personal liberty laws that blocked recovery of fugitive slaves, and the Wilmot Proviso – the Address reiterated Calhoun's doctrine of the constitutional right to take slaves into all territories, reminded southerners that their 'property, prosperity, equality, liberty, and safety' were at stake, and warned that the South might secede if her rights were not protected."
SECNAV Gideon Welles
McPherson shows how the north fought to keep slavery from expanding into Texas, New Mexico and California 160 years ago in the aftermath of the Mexican-American War. One of the northern congressmen who took a stand was Connecticut's Gideon Welles:
"'The time has come,' agreed ... Welles, 'when the Northern democracy should make a stand. Every thing has taken a Southern shape and been controlled by Southern caprice for years.' We must, Welles concluded 'satisfy the northern people ... that we are not to extend the institution of slavery as a result of this war.'"
Welles would become President Lincoln's Secretary of the Navy 15 years later.

In 1858 the Charleston Mercury newspaper published this: "On the subject of slavery, the North and South ... are not only two Peoples, but they are rival, hostile Peoples."

The editor and founder of the Charleston Mercury was South Carolina Representative Henry L. Pinckney. 

Pinckney, served as Mayor of Charleston and was son of Charles Pinckney, a signer of the Constitution and a slaveowner who introduced the Fugitive Slave Clause. Charles Pinckney owned slaves in Beaufort in what is now the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, where once the Pinckney plantation stood.

South Carolina State Representative Clementa Pinckney's empty desk last Friday.
South Carolina State Senator Clementa Pinckney, whose family on his father's side originated in Beaufort, South Carolina is likely a descendent of slaves owned by Charles Pinckney. Rev. Clementa Pinckney was among those murdered last week. He was senior pastor at Mother Emanuel AME church. 

Emanuel AME church was founded in 1816 by African Americans at a time when black literacy was prohibited. The church on Calhoun Street was the target of intolerance, segregation and hate for decades. But today it is also a place of Christian faith, hope and the power of love.
Left to right top: Cynthia Hurd, Clementa Pinckney, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders.
Left to right bottom: Ethel Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Susie Jackson, Daniel Simmons Sr
In the face of gun violence and in a state that flies the Confederate battle flag and where the streets are named for heroes of the Confederacy (as John Stewart* points out), the families of the victims of homegrown terrorism showed remarkable grace, mercy and forgiveness.

Instead of cynicism and calls for revenge and more violence, loved ones in Charleston are calling for "understanding," "unity" and "love." Church services today demonstrated an infinite capacity for human resilience.

Compared with a history of intolerance, racism and violence against people of African ancestry, Charleston shows us a better way today.

*Stewart provided a powerful monologue in the immediate aftermath of the assassination in Charleston before introducing his interview guest, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and gun violence victim Malala Yousafzai.

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