Jackson remembered as family, church matriarch

Pallbearers exit Emanuel AME Church carrying the casket of Cynthia Hurd as mourners for Susie Jackson and Tywanza Sanders file inside the church for their funerals in the lightning and heavy rain.

The silver casket, with its enormous bouquet of pink and lavender flowers, rolled into place first. Pallbearers opened the top section and arranged the linens inside to permit family members to view Susie Jackson one last time before she was laid to rest forever.

The dark brown casket of Tywanza Sanders was positioned next to that of his beloved aunt.

Through the warm, humid sanctuary of Emanuel AME Church family members processed, pausing at the foot of the altar to bid farewell then take their seats. The Rev. Norvel Goff, interim pastor of Mother Emanuel and presiding elder of the AME Church’s Edisto District, read from the Psalms.

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

The Rev. Stephen Singleton offered an opening prayer for these two victims of a mass shooting at the church on June 17, and for their grieving families.

“Though they might have nightmares, give them sweet dreams.”

Jackson was remembered as a gentle, loving figurehead.

“She was a mother to so, so many, this matriarch of the Jackson family,” church member Carlotta Dennis remarked.

Jackson, who was 87 when she died, sang in the choir, was a member of the Woman’s Missionary Society, attended Bible study regularly, was a trustee of the church and volunteered in myriad ways over her many years of constant faith and fidelity, Dennis said. She gave generously, to her church, to her family, even to strangers.

Jackson was deeply rooted in Charleston. She lived in an old single house within walking distance of her church. She attended Buist Elementary School and Burke High School and worked as a beautician and home health care provider. She was always thinking of others, her family said.

Her grandson Walter Jackson Jr. spoke of God’s call and his grandmother’s readiness to heed it.

“For all those who knew Susie Jackson, ‘no’ wasn’t really in her vocabulary,” he said. “I have a feeling God called on her: ‘I’ve got a mission for you Susie Jackson!” That mission surely left behind mourning friends and family, including eight grandchildren, but it was for a purpose “bigger than life,” Walter Jackson said. It was to call her higher and to inspire a nation.

Mourners, dampened by a burst of heavy rain, entered the church and waited nearly an hour for the service to begin. Many who could not secure a seat in the pews of Mother Emanuel were directed to Second Presbyterian Church, which was equipped for an overflow crowd.

The service included unprogrammed remarks by Mayor Joe Riley and Gov. Nikki Haley, as well as a prayer by the Rev. Jesse Jackson. It drew to a close with the climactic singing of a gospel song, “I Can’t Give Up Now,” by Minister Jarell Smalls, who brought the church to its feet.

The song was followed by yet another inspirational sermon by Goff, who has presided over all of the funerals.

“I’ve just got a quick news-breaking announcement,” he said at one point. “Every demon in Hell is mad right now!” Mad because a full church was celebrating the lives of exemplary Christians. “My heart is still broken but I feel that mending is taking place.”

People, he said, have come together.