For native Charlestonian and artist Leroy Campbell, dedicating a painting to the victims of the Emanuel AME Church massacre was a way to pay tribute to the Holy City and to the strength of its people.
Campbell unveiled the mixed-media painting Tuesday afternoon at the 19th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Picture Awards, which are organized by state Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston. The painting shows a woman being baptized. Sections of Bible verses are pasted next to photographs of the shooting's nine victims. A pair of wings represent the woman ascending into a new life while two men stand at her side, supporting her.
"My aim this that this piece will help continue to strengthen and heal the survivors, the immediate family and the church family," Campbell said. "It will travel first but we want Charleston to be its resting place."
The artist presented a copy of the painting to the Rev. Eric Manning, current pastor at Emanuel, for display at the church, and said he has set aside nine other copies that he wants to give to the victims’ families.
"This doesn't belong to me," he said. "This belongs to us."
The award ceremony honors individuals in the community who embody King's spirit. Its recipients have included people ranging from civilians to clergy to politicians.
This year, the honorees were:
- Perry Capers
- Samoya Hall
- Diane Hamilton
- Michelle Harris
- Kathy L. Jackson
- Edwina K. McGill
- Raphaela O'Connor
- Jermel President
- Rabbi Yossi Refson
- Fouehe' Sheppard
- Annette Smalls
The ceremony also featured a tribute to the family of Walter Scott, performances by the Charleston Development Academy Choir and The Citadel Gospel Choir.
State Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, gave the ceremony's keynote address.
He spoke about the trauma and sadness in the aftermath King's assassination, of how the assassin's bullet was an attempt to silence what he stood for and of the parallels to what happened at Emanuel AME Church.
To honor the legacies of King and the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Malloy urged the audience to get involved in the political process, vote and to stand up for the rights of everyone in the community.
"Deep in my heart, I do believe that we can make it in a time such as this," he said.
Campbell, 60, grew up in the Gadsden Green apartment complex. He graduated from Burke High School in 1975 and left for New York City to pursue his art. He is based in Atlanta today.
His mother took Thalidomide during her pregnancy. The drug left him with birth defects — shortened fingers, shortened toes and a curvature of the spine.
But Campbell said he turned his disability into a source of strength.
"I came from humble beginnings but I've always been blessed to come from a community of having many mothers, many fathers, many families, and I lived in a time where teachers cared about how you learned and I lived at a time where the parents were the loudest voice for the young people," Campbell said. "We gave them the last word and so as a result, that sense of honoring, that sense of respect for your community, your culture and your God — that started here in Charleston."
This story about the 2017 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Picture Awards inadvertently omitted one of the recipients. Michelle Harris also won the honor.