Clementa Pinckney, state senator, pastor, dead in shooting

Sen. Clementa Pinckney on the Senate floor in 2014. The 41-year-old minister was killed by a white gunman along with eight of his parishioners Wednesday night in his Charleston church leading a Bible study class.

Few traveled the state’s roads as much as the Rev. Clementa Pinckney.

As a Statehouse lawmaker, he represented a rural spread of six impoverished counties south of Charleston covering an area about the size of Rhode Island.

As a pastor, he ministered to the sick and to shut-ins. Driving home from his Statehouse duties in Columbia mid-week to attend Bible study wasn’t unheard of.

And that’s what he was doing at 9 p.m. Wednesday when a white gunman killed him and eight of his parishioners inside Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church.

He was 41 and leaves behind a wife and two daughters.

Friends and colleagues remembered Pinckney as someone who was destined to be a rising star in the pulpit where he was called to preach at age 13.

Others compared his appointment as the pastor of Mother Emanuel, as members describe it, to making it to the Super Bowl itself, given the church’s historic status in Charleston.

The Calhoun Street congregation was founded in 1818 as the first African Methodist Episcopal church in the South. One of its founders was Denmark Vesey, a slave who in 1822 organized a revolt that was quelled before it began.

“We always teased him about how he was always more interested in being a bishop than being in the Legislature,” said former lawmaker and minister McKinley Washington, who held the Senate District 45 seat for years before Pinckney took over in 2000.

The combination of preacher and politician has long been an integral part of black and Democratic politics in the poor South, and Pinckney’s Senate District 45 seat is ripe for that sort of figure. The seat covers parts of Allendale, Beaufort, Charleston, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties, encompassing some of the most neglected parts of the state.

“The pulpit gave him an opportunity to provide leadership for his community and baptize believers to Christ,” said state Sen. Marlon Kimpson of Charleston.

Pinckney was born in Jasper County, and the church ran deep in his family. On his mother’s side are four generations of AME pastors. His great-grandfather, the Rev. Lorenzo Stevenson, sued the Democratic Party in the state to end whites-only primaries.

His uncle, the Rev. Levern Stevenson, pastor at Macedonia AME Church in Charleston, was involved with the NAACP in the 1960s and 1970s, fighting to desegregate school buses in Jasper County. He sued Gov. John C. West to create single-member voting districts that would open the door to blacks who wanted to serve in the Legislature.

Pinckney joined the AME Conference at 14 under a missionary rule and soon was appointed by the AME bishop to an apprenticeship. At Allen University, which is run by the AME Church, Pinckney pastored during his freshman year. He was also a page at the Statehouse while a college student.

Pinckney started his own political career in 1996 when he was elected to the S.C. House of Representatives at the age of 23.

In 2010, Pinckney told The Post and Courier he found life as a minister easy.

“Loving God is never separate from loving our brothers and sisters,” Pinckney said. “It’s always the same.”

A black cloth was draped over his seat in the state Senate on Thursday.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.