Daniel L. Simmons Sr.

Daniel Simmons

Endurance comes in many forms. Stacked like cordwood inside ships, millions of enslaved Africans endured the “Middle Passage” to the American colonies. Institutions can endure, including Emanuel AME church, which was formed by freed slaves in the early 1800s, went underground after the Denmark Vesey executions, and then rose again as Mother Emanuel. It also came in the form of one of the AME church’s servants, Daniel Lee Simmons Sr.

Simmons was a gentle man with an easy smile. He was born 74 years ago just as the country was about to endure its Second World War. Simmons would go on to fight in another war, Vietnam, and return with a Purple Heart. Later, he found himself called to a different form of service, the ministry.

He attended the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, graduating in 1988 with a Master of Divinity. He was assigned to Friendship AME and Olive Branch AME in Mount Pleasant, and St. Luke’s AME in Hollywood. “Dependable, that’s how I would describe him, and an excellent administrator,” said the Rev. Joe Darby, presiding elder of the church’s Beaufort District. “And he had a very good sense of humor.” Humor is an important endurance food for any minister.

After about 30 years as a pastor, Simmons retired, but as Darby said, “ministers never really retire.” Simmons soon joined the ministerial staff of Mother Emanuel, the AME church’s spiritual heart.

Simmons was the only victim to survive the gunfire. An ambulance rushed him to Medical University Hospital. An emergency team worked on him into early morning, until he could endure no more. But endurance comes in many forms. In Simmons’ case, this includes his family. In the aftermath, his son would cite Romans 15:5 and “the God who gives the power of patient endurance.” And his granddaughter would face the young man charged with nine counts of murder, now shackled: “Everyone’s plea for your soul is proof they lived in love and their legacies will live in love.”

Tony Bartleme