Nine hours before state Sen. Clementa Pinckney was murdered in his own church, he was in the Statehouse pushing colleagues to boost benefits for foster children.
Seven hours before he died, Pinckney went to lunch with about 15 of his fellow Senate Democrats. His friend and deskmate, Sen. Vincent Sheheen, mentioned the group was collecting money for a gift to give the Senate’s janitorial staff.
Pinckney, pastor of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, quietly pulled out his wallet and handed Sheheen a $20 bill.
“Clem wasn’t a rich person,” Sheheen recalled. “But the last time I saw him, he was giving.”
That’s how Sheheen will remember his friend, a 41-year-old father of two who quickly left Columbia to return to Charleston for a quarterly conference at Emanuel AME. A Bible study would follow the meeting. The pastor, who’d begun to preach at 13, wouldn’t miss it.
He died just after listening to a small flock of his faithful discuss a passage in the Gospel of Mark.
Pinckney, a hugger known for his kindness, wasn’t a lawmaker who pounced on every political battle. A gentle man and a gentleman, he picked his fights. And those fights dealt with issues such as the need for 4-year-old preschool so all children arrive at kindergarten prepared, voting rights access for those facing barriers to the ballot box and, most recently, police body cameras.
“He was a voice for the voiceless,” Sheheen said. “And those issues aren’t high-profile — because they are about the voiceless.”
On Thursday morning after hearing the horrific news, Sheheen called the Senate clerk to be sure the body recognized his friend’s death appropriately.
Sheheen choked up recalling the moment he walked into the chamber to see a simple black cloth draped over Pinckney’s desk, right beside his own, and a spray of flowers marking the spot where Pinckney would never sit again.