Tomorrow, President Obama will deliver the eulogy at the funeral of South Carolina State Senator, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of the storied Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. He was one of nine people mown down so cruelly last week, as they attended bible study. I know the President will speak eloquently tomorrow, as he always does, and bring a nation that is grieving already, to tears once more. But today, two other victims of that senseless act of hate, were laid to rest, in a city shaken awake by the abiding hatred, evidence of the gaping wound in this nation’s psyche that has never been healed.
The services held today were moving testaments to the good and generous lives that Ethel Lance and Sharonda Coleman-Singleton led. Ordinary lives, lived with peace and love, horrifically cut short by the action of a hate-filled racist. Ethel Lance, 70, was a mother, a grandmother and a great grandmother. As her family paid loving tribute to her memory, a church filled with hundreds of mourners, black and white, wept. As did those of us who watched or heard it unfold.
I was coasting downhill, whistling cheerfully, as the NPR reporter spoke about the victory of the Affordable Health Care Act in the Supreme Court today. Abruptly, the next piece of news came on. Wade Goodwyn was reporting on the funeral of Ethel Lance in Charleston, South Carolina. The gospel music ebbed and flowed in beautiful melodies. Then, we heard the voice of one of Ms. Lance’s grandsons, Brandon Risher. “She was a victim of hate, she can be a symbol for love. That’s what she was in life”, he said, maintaining great composure. The music transported even the most stoic heart to a place where hatred could not find a seat. In an unusually moving newscast, Wade Goodwyn concluded by saying, ” the vile racist hatred that took Ethel Lance’s life was exorcized this afternoon, by wave after wave of music and prayer, until all that was left was sadness and love”. I pulled my car onto the shoulder and wept.
It is the remarkably merciful sentiments expressed by the famiies of the slain that will resonate for a long time. Even at the arraignment hearing for Dyllan Roof, just days after the massacre, parents and children and siblings of his victims, spoke with a rare degree of mercy. In a courtroom presided over by a judge known for his fairly racist pronouncements, the family members of the victims pronounced forgiveness for the gunman. By then, his racist ideology had been revealed in his rambling, vitriolic, hate-filled manifesto.
The only unmerciful voices were those on the far right, especially the denizens of Fox News, who talked till they were blue in the face, to recast the massacre as an ‘attack on Christianity’. Bill O’Reilly got apoplectic arguing that there was no racism in America. As the days passed and the calls to remove that symbol of deep oppression, the Confederate flag that flies over the South Carolina Capitol building, gathered momentum, we heard more unmerciful statements from the right. Ann Coulter called Nikki Haley, the Republican Governor of South Carolina, an ‘immigrant who doesn’t understand our history’. Nikki Haley is South Carolina born, her parents emigrated from India before her birth. Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush, both Republicans, got brickbats from the far right, for daring to call for the removal of that oppressive symbol of race hatred.
Meanwhile, there were positive signs too. Alabama quietly removed the offending article from its own state house. Even Walmart, the shopping mecca of southern rednecks, announced it would stop selling confederate flag merchandise. But the subject of gun control never made it to the front pages, as the controversy over the flag raged.
Until that time comes, when America will finally confront the unresolved and the unhealed, the wounds inflicted by more than a century of oppression and the abrupt withdrawal of the right to own people as chattel on one side and complete subjugation on the other, all discussion is moot. One side claims that enough reparations have been done, citing affirmative action as America’s gesture towards making amends. However, as we all know the elephant in the room remains. Until then, we can only rely on the grace and mercy shown by ordinary, decent people whose loved ones were torn from them so unmercifully.
To conclude, I quote the immortal Bard.
The quality of mercy is not strained; It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes: