A way to remember Mother Emanuel Way District a monument to love, forgiveness

Survivors and families of victims of the Emanuel AME Church shooting stand under the new sign on Calhoun Street in while bells toll.

A new green sign designating the Mother Emanuel Way Memorial District hangs over Calhoun Street in front of the historically black church where nine people were slain this summer.

City officials, church leaders and members, and several hundred supporters gathered Wednesday in front of Emanuel AME Church to dedicate the district, which runs between Meeting and Concord streets.

The massacre “raised the social consciousness of the state of South Carolina, the United States and of the world to the power that forgiveness has of cleansing our society of hate,” Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said in the proclamation that created the district.

Nine worshipers were killed on June 17 in the mass shooting during a Bible study. The man accused in the shooting said he wanted to start race wars. Instead, the tragedy prompted an outpouring of support for closer race relations.

“What happened ... has changed this church, this city, this state and this nation forever,” City Councilman William Dudley Gregory, a church officer, said during the ceremony.

After the slayings, thousands of people turned the sidewalk outside the church into a memorial.

Earlier this month, City Council passed the resolution creating the district.

Besides the large sign over Calhoun Street, smaller streets signs in the district also include the designation.

“Hate is not in our dictionary of religious belief,” said the Rev. Norvel Goff, interim pastor since the Rev. Clementa Pinckney was slain that night.

The Most Rev. Richard Franklin Norris, presiding bishop of the state’s African Methodist Episcopal denomination, called the church “a living witness that God is in charge of the world.”

The ceremony ended with family members and survivors standing under the sign on Calhoun Street while the church bells tolled and the names of the victims were read: Cynthia Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, the Rev. DePayne Middleton Doctor, the Rev. Daniel L. Simmons Sr., the Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, the Rev. Myra Thompson and Pinckney.

After the mass shooting, there was some discussion of changing the name of Calhoun Street, but the idea was dropped after discovering it would require a two-thirds vote of the S.C. Legislature. John C. Calhoun was a South Carolina politician whose support of states’ rights and slavery led the South toward secession. His statue is in the center of nearby Marion Square.

Reach Dave Munday at (843) 937-5553.