Our hearts have been broken, but our spirit hasn’t.
The senseless killing of nine people at Emanuel AME Church was meant to start a race war, to divide us. It was an appeal to our worst demons.
But we responded with our better angels.
We held hands across the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, stood together in Marion Square, cried and sang as one at the College of Charleston, and covered the sidewalk in front of Mother Emanuel with flowers.
Because Charleston is strong.
That is not simply a schmaltzy saying — a bumper sticker, a hashtag. It is a philosophy. This past week has shown just what this community is made of. We have always known our city is a special place, a historic place. But we have shown the world that this is — above all else — a great place.
We are always going to have our differences, some of them petty, others profound. But we have proven that — black and white, Republican and Democrat — ultimately we are all on the same side.
We are Charlestonians, and South Carolinians.
We still have a lot of work to do, wounds to heal, unfinished fights to resolve. But we have not let the deaths of nine good souls pass in vain. They would have wanted it that way; they were good people.
They were Charlestonians.
People can call such sentiment hokey or trite, but it’s real. The proof has come in recent days.
Since the tragedy we have had people coming into town to stir things up, tell us how to think, advise us about what we need to do. Some of it has been violent, meant to provoke the race war that a disturbed, misguided psychopath wanted.
We don’t need any advice, especially like that. We watched as the families of the nine victims forgave their killer — an act that took more courage, more character than most people can even understand.
So these people from off should know better. There were not riots when Walter Scott was shot in April, as much as they tried to make that happen. We don’t firebomb cars, burn flags or loot buildings.
Please stop coming here to try and incite such senselessness. This mannerly Southern city would thank you to just leave us to mourn and heal in peace.
All these people — be they from cities torn by racial strife or “churches” that are doing anything but God’s bidding — should turn around and go home. Or, better yet, stay for a while, keep your mouths shut, and learn how a truly united community responds to horror and hate.
This is a place where Charleston Southern University sets up a memorial fund to help a student — whose mother was one of the nine — finish his education.
This is a place where city government creates a trust to pay for the funerals of the victims and help their survivors cope with bottomless sorrow.
This is a place where black community leaders tell outside protesters to keep their hate out of the city.
This is a place where The Citadel’s Board of Visitors votes to remove the Confederate Naval Jack from Summerall Chapel.
That flag was a gift, a reminder of the school’s proud history, but as school President John Rosa so eloquently said, moving it was the least The Citadel could do for its sister organization, Mother Emanuel.
That’s leadership and a commitment to community.
If more places were like Charleston, the world would be much better off.
Charleston is going to be just fine, thank you.
We will forever mourn our loss, but we won’t let that mar a great place. We may squabble, we may need to work on race relations. But we don’t need to destroy things, knock down monuments or change street names. We only need to show what people of goodwill can do when they try.
We support one another, and will do so even more in the future. We learned long ago that the first step to having someone respect your history is to respect theirs. That was already happening here before Emanuel, to a much larger degree than anyone from outside this state understood.
Here’s an example of Charleston strength: the acceptance and kindness that this killer received from the good people of Mother Emanuel almost convinced him to abandon his evil plan. Hate won that battle, but that’s the only victory it gets here.
This is part of all our history now, and the way we deal with it will not only help us survive, it will make us stronger. That is the lesson people around the world need to take from Charleston, a lesson we learned from the victims of a mass murderer.
More than a week ago, our hearts were broken. In the wake of great tragedy, we did not resort to hate and violence. No, instead, Charleston came together and, sentimental as it may be, sang “We Shall Overcome.”
But the truth is, we already have.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org.