“By Taking Down That Flag We Express God’s Grace”

Earlier today a jury convicted Dylann Roof of the murder of nine churchgoers that took place at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, 2015. The same jury will decide early next year whether Mr. Roof deserves the death penalty for his actions.

Let’s take a minute to remember the nine innocent victims of this young man’s racial hatred that was so closely wrapped up in Confederate symbolism.

  • Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd (54) – Bible study member and manager for the Charleston County Public Library system
  • Susie Jackson (87) – a Bible study and church choir member.
  • Ethel Lee Lance (70) – the church’s sexton.
  • Depayne Middleton-Doctor (49) – a pastor who was also employed as a school administrator and admissions coordinator at Southern Wesleyan University.
  • Clementa C. Pinckney (41) – the church’s pastor and a South Carolina state senator.
  • Tywanza Sanders (26) – a Bible study member; grandnephew of Susie Jackson.
  • Daniel Simmons (74) – a pastor who also served at Greater Zion AME Church in Awendaw.
  • Sharonda Coleman-Singleton (45) – a pastor; also a speech therapist and track coach at Goose Creek High School.
  • Myra Thompson (59) – a Bible study teacher.

Given that this is a blog about Civil War memory it is also appropriate to re-visit President Obama’s words about the meaning of the Confederate flag and its place in another in a long line of racial violence, hatred, and discrimination.

This sermon was delivered during the memorial service for Rev. Pinckney on June 26, 2015.

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14 comments… add one
  • Eric A. Jacobson Dec 20, 2016 @ 5:45

    I’ve thought about commenting several times, and the words never seem right, but I’ll give it a shot.

    No doubt Roof was motivated by complete racial bigotry, or racism, and he saw the Confederate battle flag as somehow connected to how he viewed the world around him, especially the world of black and white. But there is something else at play here, in my opinion. Roof is walking proof of evil. Listening to his confession is so strikingly at odds with human nature that it is jarring. This is not just some racist idiot. This is someone who, with utter malice, shot people down in a church BECAUSE of the color of their skin. He shot an 87-year old woman eleven times. It is sickening.

    I guess my point is this: I think tying Roof to the flag and to history is certainly appropriate because there is no getting around it, but there is something far deeper and far worse at play.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 20, 2016 @ 5:57

      I hear you, Eric. I’ve certainly had similar thoughts, but at the same time I think it is important to understand that his hatred did not evolve and explode in a bubble. There was the raw emotion of hatred wrapped up in a good deal of what he certainly believed to be rational thought about the past and present. Thanks for the comment.

  • bob carey Dec 18, 2016 @ 4:49

    It is very thoughtful of you to write of the victims and give a human side to this horrific event. It seems that most of the focus lately is pointed to this little punk who committed the murders and all too we tend to view the victims as a statistic.
    As for McCallister he is misguided, to say the least, to state that Confederates were patriots is a bit of a stretch. He states that the families of the victims of the Mother Emmanuel tragedy forgave Roof for his actions and this is true, but isn’t that akin to Lincoln, Grant, and Shermans’ actions during the Confederate surrenders.

    • Matt McKeon Dec 18, 2016 @ 18:48

      I doubt the families of victims of this massacre think kindly of the Confederate flag. This “they forgave Roof” line isn’t “therefore they’re cool with the Confederate flag.”

      • bob carey Dec 19, 2016 @ 5:21

        I agree with you Matt. Forgiveness of an action doesn’t mean condoning one of the reasons that contributed to that action.

  • Matt McKeon Dec 16, 2016 @ 13:45

    I’d like to know the websites Roof spend his time on. That little gobshite didn’t think up all this stuff on his own. He was indoctrinated, and pointed in a certain direction.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 17, 2016 @ 3:41


      I believe Roof comments on some of the websites he visited in the interrogation video that was recently released.

    • Andy Hall Dec 17, 2016 @ 9:47

      He said in his manifesto that the Council of Conservative Citizens was the website that set him off on his path.

      • Matt McKeon Dec 17, 2016 @ 15:34

        The uptown klan. Those people should be put under a microscope.

  • Patrick Jennings Dec 16, 2016 @ 10:28

    In my simple mind if a person simply can not be reformed and is a criminal of no redeemable value to society then the death penalty is warranted. I have been in combat, I know the face of death and I am not a particularly violent person – but I feel Mr. Root needs to be extracted from this earth. His level of hatred has no place in this world.

    I can only side with Mr. David McCallister in the slightest way and that is to say that Mr. Roof’s actions were of his own twisted design. It has no bearing on the true study of the American Civil War. And here is where Mr. McCallister and I part ways. As a southern man with direct family links to southern veterans of the war I can find no “honorable legacy.” They went to war for any number of reasons (some good, others horrible, most irrelevant) and their remarkable loss is testament to the fallacy of honorable intent. There is always a loser in every war, and the south lost theirs. Indeed, I find the public display of the wrong flag, in the wrong places, promoting the wrong ideas entirely disrespectful to the decedents of Confederate combat veterans. The flags my forefathers fought under looks nothing like the dime-store prop that so many people get excited about. At least one of the flags a distant “father” fought under is in a museum – a beautiful and tragic relic to his life’s greatest mistake…and there it should stay.

    I do not support the removal of memorial statues. I do not agree with the ardent desire to hate and vilify a past not one of us can come close to understanding. I do, however, find the public display of a false color – pretending to represent the “my people” – an affront to civility and the very patriotic sense that placed me in the same army that rightfully defeated the misguided armies of the Confederate States.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 17, 2016 @ 4:40

      Hi Patrick,

      Thanks for the comment. I think the only place we see things differently is here:

      I can only side with Mr. David McCallister in the slightest way and that is to say that Mr. Roof’s actions were of his own twisted design. It has no bearing on the true study of the American Civil War.

      I do see Roof’s identification with Confederate iconography to be relevant to the study of the history and memory of the Civil War if only to remind us that the battle flag was central to the military arm of a government pledged to protect slavery and white supremacy. Mr. Roof clearly found meaning in its use stretching back to the war and through much of the twentieth century in justifying his own actions.

  • David McCallister Dec 16, 2016 @ 6:57

    Pres. Obama did say one correct phrase, “It’s true, a flag did not cause these murders”.
    In his confession, Dylann Roof did not say anything about being influenced by the Confederate flag.
    He talked about Rhodesia, he talked about black-on-white crime, and the Travon Martin case.
    The Confederate Battle Flag and the honorable legacy of the CSA was not his motivation.
    To malign the South and the patriots represented by the Confederate Battle Flag is wrong.
    Every Confederate Battle Flag removed from public view in the aftermath of the Dylann Roof murders should be returned to its proper place.
    The premise upon which the hysterical virtual lynching of this symbol was built up has been proven false.
    Pres. Obama’s speech is based on lies and calumnies to take self-serving advantage of a “crisis too good to waste”.
    Pres. Obama should now admit he was wrong and apologize for this speech and the wave of divison and public agitation he helped engender.
    He truely is “The Great Divider”.
    His characteristic record of race-baiting kneejerk reactions to such incidents will be his legacy of shame.
    To perpetuate this egregious example of “Waving the Bloody Shirt” is intellectually dishonest.
    Confederophobia at its worst.
    The memory of the victims of Dylann Roof’s murders should not be tainted by such vitriolic and misplaced animosity.
    The surviviors at Mother Emanuel church exhibited nobility and forgiveness.
    Pres. Obama and the other Confederophobics just exhibit the base motivation of cynical opportunism.
    David R. McCallister

    • Andy Hall Dec 16, 2016 @ 8:25

      “The Confederate Battle Flag and the honorable legacy of the CSA was not his motivation.”

      So why do you suppose that he took and posted multiple pictures of Confederate sites, including a Confederate cemetery and a museum operated by the SCV, along with his manifesto explaining his actions and motivation? The plain evidence is that he believed the Confederacy was relevant to what he did.

      • Kevin Levin Dec 16, 2016 @ 9:16

        These images are available to anyone who cares to open their eyes. Here is a recent story about a photograph Roof took of the Confederate flag in Columbia.

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