S. 13 originals. The killer wanted to share his thoughts. Or what passed for thoughts in the mind of a murderous white supremacist? The 21 year old Dylann Roof in jail and awaiting sentencing for the 2015 fatal shootings of nine innocents at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, kept a journal that was read into the court record in early 2017. Roof wrote, I did what I thought would make the biggest wave, and now the fate of our race is in the hands of my brothers who continue to live freely.
Here's how The New York Times reported the Journal. Seemingly unaware that he faced the likelihood of at least a life term in prison, Mr. Roof wrote that he would rather live in prison knowing I took action for my race than live with the torture of sitting idle. In a dizzying blitz of insults and stereotypes, predictions and perceived problems, Mr. Ruef railed against Jews, Hispanics, African-Americans, gays and Muslims. He said that Adolf Hitler would someday be inducted as a saint, and he warned that unless white people take violent action, we have no future.
Such was the voice of a manifestation of the darkest of American forces. Charleston, however, also gave us another voice, one that spoke to hate and hope and history. That voice belonged to Barack Obama. We do not know whether the killer of Reverend Pinckney and eight others knew all of this history. But he surely sensed the meaning of his violent act. It was an act that drew on a long history of bombs and arson and shots fired at churches, not random, but as a means of control and a way to terrorize.
and oppress blinded by hatred, the alleged killer could not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and that Bible study group, the light of love that shown as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer service. The alleged killer could have never anticipated the way the families of the fallen would respond when they saw him in court in the midst of unspeakable grief with words of forgiveness, he couldn't imagine that. I'm Jon Meacham, and this is it was said Episode three, President Obama's Charleston sermon.
This was a wound that struck the community in a way probably unlike anything that has happened to Charleston in the memory of anyone who's a lot, and he had to figure out how to speak to this ongoing Gothic ritual of American life, of black public grief and such. Obama's speech in his eulogy was a lesson in trying to bind wounds publicly through the rhetoric and the bully pulpit of the presidency of the United States. It was June twenty fifteen late in his presidency when Barack Obama got the news that Roof, armed with a 45 caliber pistol, had slaughtered members of a Bible study group at Emanuel as the president eulogized one of the victims, the Reverend Clementa Pinckney.
Obama spoke not only of grief, but of grace. According to the Christian tradition, grace is not earned, the president said. Grace is not merited.
It's not something we deserve. Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God. Yes. As manifested in the salvation of sinners. And the bestowal of Blessing's. Bryce.
As a nation out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we've been blind and.
He's given us the chance where we've been lost to find our best selves.
Action had to follow words, it was the least we could do for too long, we've been blind to the way past injustices continue to shape the present. That's right. Perhaps we see that not perhaps this tragedy causes us to ask some tough questions about how we can permit so many of our children to languish in poverty or attend dilapidated schools or grow up without prospects for a job or for a career. Perhaps it causes us to examine what we're doing to cause some of our children to hate.
With grace, progress, even redemption was possible in this hour of grief. We may not have earned this grace with our rancor and complacency and shortsightedness and fear of each other, but we got it all the same. Obama said he gave it to us anyway. He's once more giving us grace. But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude and to prove ourselves worthy of this gift, suddenly, unexpectedly, Obama began to sing the old hymn Amazing Grace.
Amazing Grace. I may see great. Three. This. That. Even by the standards of the presidency, the day Obama spoke in Charleston was a full one that morning before he had gone to South Carolina, he had received word that the Supreme Court had ruled in favor of same sex marriage.
Our nation was founded on a bedrock principle that we are all created equal, Obama said in the Rose Garden project of each generation is to bridge the meaning of those founding words with the realities of changing times, a never ending quest to ensure those words ring true for every single American. Progress on this journey often comes in small increments, sometimes two steps forward, one step back, propelled by the persistent effort of dedicated citizens.
And then sometimes there are days like this when that slow, steady effort is rewarded with justice that arrives like a thunderbolt.
The ruling, he said, reaffirmed that all Americans are entitled to the equal protection of the law, regardless of who they are or who they love. It was a watershed moment. I know change for many of our LGBT brothers and sisters must have seemed so slow for so long, Obama said.
But compared to so many other issues, America's shift has been so quick. I know that Americans of goodwill continue to hold a wide range of views on this issue. Opposition in some cases has been based on sincere and deeply held beliefs, all of us who welcome today's news should be mindful of that fact, recognize different viewpoints, reveal our deep commitment to religious freedom. But today should also give us hope that on the many issues with which we grapple often painfully real change is possible.
Shifts in hearts and minds is possible, and those who have come so far on their journey to equality have a responsibility to reach back and help others join them.
Because for all our differences, we are one people stronger together than we could ever be alone.
That's always been our story and our story is a complicated one. The eulogy at Emanuel is an epic document, a mix of the secular and the sacred, hard truths and enduring hopes.
The immediate audience was the congregation there in Charleston, black people mostly who had been freshly terrorized by the venom of white supremacy in a city that looks out on Fort Sumter. The federal for that was the first target of the Confederate military in April 1861. Old times in Charleston were not forgot. And even in defeat, especially in defeat, white South Carolinians kept the flame of the lost cause alive through the ensuing century and a half.
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Hi. I love your name. Charleston is a city that loves its history and it loves its churches and it loves the history of its churches.
This is the editor and journalist John Huey Emanuel has an unusual place in history. It's the oldest Imee church in the south. It's called Mother Emanuel because of that.
But it also had a lot to do with the Denmark Vesey slave uprising. And it was burned to the ground because it was seen as a haven for organizers to free slaves.
Its physical location is very interesting because it sits on Calhoun Street named for John C. Calhoun, who was an arch proponent of slavery, one of the few who actually resented slavery as a positive good.
That's a quote. And African-Americans in Charleston were very aware of who John C. Calhoun was when they put up the statue in the late 90s. The statue was high on a pedestal because it's near a neighborhood that was very African-American and they would spit on it and throw fruit at it and whatnot.
So Calhoun was raised up on a pedestal and his statue until very recently stood high on a pedestal right down the street from Mother Emanuel. So it goes way back and goes way back in African-American history. It goes way back in Charleston history and religious history. Mother Emanuel is right in the middle of everything. And every Christmas, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who was the pastor there, were put in by the community and for gospel singers in the holidays, which were fantastic events.
And he would stand up there and, you know, explain the history of the church and narrate the music. And of course, he was also known because he was a very well-liked state senator, South Carolina state senator, well-liked on both sides of the aisle.
My name is Reverend Clementa Pinckney. I'm in my fourth year of pastoring here at the church where you are is a very special place in Charleston. It's a very special place because this church and this site has been tied to the history and life of African-Americans since about the early eighteen hundreds.
This church was Clementa was a gentle giant. He was a loving, caring person.
This is the late Clementa Pinckney, his wife, Jennifer Pinckney.
I always used to hear him tell our daughters that you need to stop and listen to people. And that's one thing that I found out about him, is that especially in his profession, is that he was always one that would listen and not just talk all the time. He was a kind person, caring, very outgoing. He was family oriented, loved doing family events, love spending time with the girls and myself. He was a leader. You know, after he passed.
I didn't realize the many things that he was involved in that work at work. And he wanted the time at home to just be with his girls so that he was just an all around good guy.
So when the news of this hit Charleston, it wasn't one of these things where people said, well, what's Mother Emanuel or who's Clementa Pinckney?
This was this was a wound that struck the community in a way, probably unlike anything that has happened to Charleston in the memory of anyone who's alive. Yet Charleston in 2015 was not singular in its vulnerability to white supremacy. These were the same weeks in which Donald Trump, who had solidified a national political reputation by pushing the baseless theory that President Obama was not an American citizen, was launching his own presidential bid. Only two years later would come Charlottesville with its neo-Nazi and neo Confederate hate march.
Dylann Roof, it would turn out, had been partly inspired to his murderous rampage by the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida.
The audience for Obama's eulogy then stretched far beyond the fabled congregation of Emanuel and included all of America, an America that, for all its progress on matters of race and justice, was forever slipping back, forever trapped, at least in part in its centuries of often state sanctioned white violence against blacks. Everyone felt it, you know, they called Charleston the holy city. It was a religious moment. It was an atrocity that took place in a church. It happened to a well known church, a well known congregation, a well-known minister and the president of the United States shows up.
He is here to help the church heal, to help the city heal, to help us all make sense of this.
It was the most significant presidential visit I can remember in any city in which I've ever lived.
Now, even a presiding bishop has since enough to know not to block the way when the president is waiting to speak. But I say that I can tell the world about this.
I can tell the nation that I'm blessed to tell them that the comforter has come and brought joy to our school.
When it was decided that President Obama was going to give the eulogy, you know, all I could do was just kind of look up towards the sky and say only you committee would have the president speak at your funeral. It was touching. He showed his compassion. You know, I had the opportunity, my girls and I, to actually meet him and his wife and the vice president, Biden and his wife right before he gave the eulogy. And I think when he saw my girls, he could see his girls.
It was heartfelt. And you can just tell he felt like he was truly in. I am told that it is my responsibility to say that the president of the United States of America, the honorable Barack Obama, will come at this time. Giving all praise and honor to God. The Bible. Calls us to hope to persevere and have faith in things not seen. They were still living by faith when they died. Scripture tells us. They did not receive the things promised.
They only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, you know, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on Earth. We are here today to remember a man of God who lived by faith, a man who believed in things not seen.
A man who believed there were better days ahead, off in the distance, a man of service who persevered knowing full well he would not receive all those things he was promised because he believed his efforts would deliver a better life for those who follow.
The whole nation was mourning, this was an unspeakable act of racial violence.
This is the author and professor of history at the University of Texas, Peniel Joseph.
We knew it was racially motivated because of the thoughts of the killer on social media and other avenues. So it was really a very, very troubling moment in American history. But then Obama's speech in his eulogy was unbelievably touching, a deeply historic, deeply empathetic and really a lesson in trying to bind wounds publicly through the rhetoric and the bully pulpit of the presidency of the United States. I want to tell you about another history podcast that explores how moments in history continue to shape our world today.
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I think what comes to mind when President Obama gives the eulogy for the Charleston nine, the nine souls who are lost from a white supremacist attack is really one of suffering and tragedy. It's really one of really unspeakable grief to the families of the fallen.
The nation shares in your grief. Our pain cuts that much deeper because it happened in a church. Over the course of centuries, black churches served as hush harbors where slaves could worship in safety. Rest for the weary along the underground railroad bunkers for the foot soldiers of the civil rights movement. All right. They have been and continue to be community centers where we organize for jobs and justice places of scholarship and network, places where children are loved and fed and kept out of harm's way and told that they are beautiful and smart and tough, that they matter what happens in church.
There's no better example of this tradition than Mother Emanuel. Achurch. A church built by blacks seeking liberty burned to the ground because its founders sought to end slavery only to rise up again. A phoenix from these ashes. I think the degree of difficulty in doing this speech was a 10 out of 10, it was held in a big arena. So a lot of a Mother Emanuel people there, a lot of politicians and a lot of white people from the community, lots of church people and some people I know who just went with their kids because they wanted them to absorb it.
And then Obama proceeds to deliver a sermon. Clem was often asked why he chose to be a pastor and a public servant, but the person who asks probably didn't know the history of AME Church. Right. As our brothers and sisters in the Army church, no, we don't make those distinctions are calling Klamm once said, is not just within the walls of the congregation, but the life and community in which our congregation resides.
He embodied the idea that our Christian faith demands deeds and not just words. That the sweet hour of prayer actually lasts the whole week. All right, let's put our faith in action is more than just individual salvation. It's about our collective salvation to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and housed. The homeless is not just a call for isolated charity, but the imperative of a just society. All right. It's all week I've been reflecting on this idea of grace.
By the grace of the families who lost loved ones in the grace that Reverend Pinckney would preach about in his sermons, the Grace described, and one of my favorite hymnals, the one we all know, you had Amazing Grace. How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I'm found was blind, but now I lost. It was very Surman like I mean, when he she says the Bible calls us to hope to persevere and have faith in things not seen.
And, you know, that's the beginning.
They were living by faith when they died. And you get the call and response. And so all a sudden, the whole feeling of Mother Emanuel is on global TV.
And then the speech is about basically Grace, but he manages to make it into a brilliant political speech. In the middle of the sermon, he talks about the Confederate flag. But taking down that flag, we express God's grace. But I don't think God wants us to stop there.
Removing the flag from this state's capitol would not be an act of political correctness. It would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be an acknowledgement that the cause for which they fought the cause of slavery was wrong.
The imposition of Jim Crow after the civil war, the resistance to civil rights for all people was wrong. It would be one step in an honest accounting of America's history. A modest but meaningful loan for so many unhealed wounds. It would be an expression of the amazing changes that have transformed this state and this country for the better because of the work of so many people of goodwill, people of all races striving to form a more perfect union. Yeah. By taking down that flag, we express God's grace.
But I don't think God wants to stop their. For too long, we've been blind to the way past injustices continue to shape the present. The president was speaking to the present and to the future, all while keenly aware of the past, the singing grabbed the most attention, as it understandably should have. But Obama's words bear our attention to. Reverend Pinckney once said, across the south, we have a deep appreciation of history, we haven't always had a deep appreciation of each other's history.
What is true in the South is true for America, Clem understood that justice grows out of recognition of ourselves in each other, that my liberty depends on you being free to.
That that history can't be a sword to justify injustice or a shield against progress. But must be a manual for how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, how to break the cycle, a roadway toward a better world.
He knew that the path of grace involves an open mind, but more importantly, an open heart.
That's what I felt this week, an open heart.
They were words he had labored over. According to The New York Times, a draft of the Charleston eulogy was given to the president around five p.m. on June 25th, and Mr. Obama spent some five hours revising it that evening, not merely jotting notes in the margins, but whipping out the yellow legal pads he likes to write on only the second time.
He's done so for a speech in the last two years, he would rewrite large swaths of the text. The paper went on, Mr. Obama expanded on a short riff in the draft about the idea of grace and made it the central theme of the eulogy, the Grace family members of the shooting victims embodied in the forgiveness they expressed toward the killer, the grace the city of Charleston in the state of South Carolina manifested in coming together in the wake of the massacre, the grace God bestowed in transforming a tragedy into an occasion for renewal, sorrow into hope.
Not every listener was persuaded by the attention to the idea of grace. He had to be there. He could not miss that because of the symbolic weight of his presidency.
This is the author and professor of African-American studies at Princeton University, Epicloud. He had to be there and he had to figure out how to speak to this ongoing Gothic ritual of American life, of black public grief and suffering, and to do so in such a way to keep the dam in place so that the racial waters would not be released.
But it's fraught. It's vexed.
There is something that's to my mind as a religion scholar that's discordant about the moment. Trying to figure out why the note of grace, what this God's grace have to do with those bodies in the ground to see those army colors.
And everyone behind them just reveling in the obvious symbolic significance of the leader of the free world, preaching the funerals of these persons who had died at the hands of a vehement racist have died at the hands of hatred.
Right. But then to invoke Amazing Grace in that moment, those of us who who study Black Church, we know Amazing Grace is an important song, but it's not Thomas Dorsets, Precious or.
Take my hand, lead me on.
Help me stand, I'm tired when I'm weary, so trying to figure out what was happening at the level of synergy of American the theater of American state power and the grief of black suffering. There were these moments where it all fit together neatly.
And then there's these moments where it just couldn't come together for me. Of course, it was genuine. I don't want to deny the sound of the genuine to President Obama in that moment. This is that the challenge that we we face when we tell the story of black struggle, when we think of nonviolence as the highest example of patriotism, or when we think of yoking the black freedom struggle.
It's a fascinating perspective and one that sheds light on the tensions not only of American history, but of the American present is the American Union, however corrupt in its origins, however sinful redeemable, is it to borrow the imagery of the preamble capable of being made more perfect on this question? Much hangs in the age of Black Lives Matter in the era of resurgent white nationalism. The nation must come to a decision about the role and value of traditional liberalism, not the blue state kind, but the Enlightenment era idea of the worth of every individual, the rule of law, the justice of equal opportunity and equal treatment.
Obama believes in this liberal tradition. He believes in pressing ahead through bloodshed and through tragedy. Powered by the grace of God, or at least by the grace of generous spirit, rather than by the greed of the exclusive and the hateful, that was the fundamental message of Charleston that for all of America's tragedies, the country is worth the fight. And that country is, when you think about it.
Amazing indeed, Clementa Pinckney found that Grace Cynthia Hurd found that Grace Susie Jackson found that grace. Lance found that grace. The pain Middleton doctor found that Grace I want to send Sanders found that Grace Daniel L. Simon Senior found that Grace Koranda Coleman Singleton found that Myra Thompson found that. Through the example of their lives, they've now passed it on us, where we find ourselves worthy of that precious and extraordinary gift.
As long as our lives endure, may Grace now lead them home and may God continue to shed his grace on the United States of America. On the next episode of it was said, a look at Meghan McCain's provocative eulogy for her father, a war hero, and Senator John McCain at Washington National Cathedral, a speech at once elegiac and resonant in the age of Trump. Thank you for listening to it was said a creation and production of C 13 originals, a division of Caden's 13 in association with history.
Executive produced by me, Jon Meacham and Chris Corcoran, directed by Lloyd Lockridge, edited, produced, engineered and master by Chris Bazil with production support and research by Bill Schulz and Jon McDermitt and research assistants by Ian Mott. Creative consultation by Eli Lehrer and Jesse Katz, graphic design, marketing and publicity by Josephine, Francis, Kirk, Courtney and Hillary, Chef. Our theme song is I Can Almost See You by Hammack. In our closing credits, song is Light by Michael Kiwanuka.