CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — When Angela Brown saw the Facebook post about a shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, her mind immediately leapt to her aunt. Whenever the doors to Emanuel were open to its flock, Ethel Lance was there.
"This was her home," said her niece, standing in the shadow of its soaring spire, tears streaming down her face.
So many people felt that way about "Mother" Emanuel.
Founded in 1818 by a free black shoemaker, the church stood as a beacon in a port city through which many legions of Africans passed on their way to bondage. Torched by angry whites after one organizer led a failed slave revolt, Emanuel rose from the ashes to serve as a stop on the Underground Railroad, even as state leaders banned all black churches and forced the congregation itself underground.
The current brick Gothic revival edifice was a mandatory stop for the likes of Booker T. Washington and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Still, Emanuel was not just a church for the black community.
And so, when a young white man walked into the Bible study Wednesday evening and asked for the minister, no one thought twice. The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Emanuel's senior pastor, invited the stranger to sit beside him.