A group of mostly white churchgoers from the Northeast gathered at Emanuel AME Church on Monday with a group of mostly black parishioners to eat and form friendships amid the divisive election season.
Wheels of Justice sponsored the group’s 10-day journey across the Deep South, inspired by the Freedom Riders of 1961, to engage people in civil and other human rights. The group of 28 people from Connecticut and surrounding areas will travel next to Atlanta; Americus, Ga.; Selma, Ala.; Montgomery, Ala.; and Memphis, Tenn.
“By focusing on the civil rights era, we can go back to the basics” of civil discourse and humanity, said Steve Jungkeit, pastor of First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, an historic church in Connecticut.
During their stop in Charleston, Emanuel AME pastor the Rev. Eric S.C. Manning, encouraged his members to sit with people they didn’t know to realize their commonalities. He noted that in heaven, “There’s not going to be a black section and a white section.”
Alluding to the year’s rancorous political season he added, “Amid so much hatred being spewed, we still have enough tenacity to break bread together.”
Almost 100 people gathered over dinner in the church’s fellowship hall, where a white racist gunman killed nine people gathered for Bible study.
Jungkeit called Emanuel’s historic struggle against racism and the forgiving response of the shooting victims’ families “powerfully, powerfully instructive.”