Sharon Benjamin waited in line Thursday with thousands of strangers to see her cousin, Sen. Clementa Pinckney, for the very last time.
She scanned the crowd, wrapped all the way around Emanuel AME Church and down several streets, and said the gathering was a testament to the impact Pinckney, a reverend and pastor at the church, and eight others who were gunned down inside last week made.
“What was intended for evil has been turned into something good,” Benjamin said. “The importance of the sacrifice that has taken place with these lives will be long, long lived.”
She and her husband drove from Atlanta to attend the viewing downtown and be at Pinckney’s funeral Friday.
Benjamin remarked on the outpouring of love and support from the community, though it wasn’t surprising given the number of events since the mass shooting dedicated to showing love for one another and unity in Charleston.
“This is the result of their love,” she said of the victims. “That love was so strong that we don’t have any choice but to also love.”
She stood in line next to a couple from Mount Pleasant. Randy and Mary McWhorter had not known Pinckney personally but wished more than ever waiting to pay their respects that they had.
“I came to know him better through the vigil last week,” Randy McWhorter said. “(We came tonight) to share in the love and the peace and thanksgiving. We truly see this as a spiritual act; it’s as if we have some of God’s presence here.”
Sharon Benjamin called the McWhorters her new best friends and said it was another example of the good that came from such a tragedy.
“That just shows you how this thing is going to bloom, how it’s going to grow — new beginnings, new relationships,” she said, excitedly wrapping her arm around Mary McWhorter. “I really believe that (Pinckney) would have been happy to see what an impact his life made on the community.”
Sarah Seabrook of Goose Creek was overwhelmed at the number of people waiting to see the Ridgeland Democrat.
“I hope that this is an example for the rest of the world,” she said. “These people will definitely be missed in the community.”
She was somber as she described how she knew some of the victims and how she cried “for a whole week,” after their deaths, but said it helped to see the community support.
“You can tell everybody’s hurt, but everyone wants to be together,” she said.
Monica Jefferson of Charleston lined up at 2 p.m. for the 6 p.m. viewing to show her support. She was teary-eyed as she watched Pinckney’s casket, draped in red roses, carried up the stairs of his church.
“With a tragedy such as this, I think you have to come together as a city for unity and peace for those taken away from us,” she said.
Reach Melissa Boughton at 937-5594.