CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — After much thought and prayer, DePayne Middelton-Doctor decided in January to return to her childhood roots and attend the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. She had attended a Baptist church for years, but she felt the time was right to switch.
Less than six months later, the 49-year-old pastor and mother of four who led Wednesday night bible study will be memorialized Sunday in the historic African-American church in South Carolina where she was killed 12 days ago after a gunman entered the church and fatally shot nine people — all African Americans. Police contend the attack was racially motived.
Speaking at the funerals for Cynthia Hurd, Tywanza Sanders and Susie Jackson, eulogizers said Saturday that the lives lost had become a catalyst for change.
The tragedy “shook an America that didn’t want to believe this kind of hate could still exist,” said Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley Jr. during a eulogy for Hurd.
Riley said the killings will go down in history with other episodes of church violence, referencing the Civil Rights-era bombing of a Baptist church in Alabama that killed four girls.
Remembering the 54-year-old Hurd as a young girl who worked serving people ice cream during the summer, Riley said she went on “to leading them to knowledge,” as a librarian for almost 30 years.
“Her death will lead to change and Cynthia Hurd will be helping millions,” he said.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley attended the services along with U.S. Sen. Tim Scott and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Speaking at the combined service for Sanders, 26 and Jackson, 87, Haley said the shooting happened on her watch, and she promised “we will make this right.” The governor did not say what actions she planned to take.
Outside the church, Jackson told The Associated Press that it is “really time for a new South.”
“This was the most traumatic hit since Dr. Martin Luther King was killed 50 years ago. This could be a defining moment for the American dream for all its people,” Jackson said. “This is a resurrection. Look around, there are white and black people together.”
The funerals follow one on Friday for the church’s slain pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, whose eulogy was delivered in person by President Barack Obama.
Obama sang a hymn of hope and spoke with the fervor of a preacher as he eulogized Pinckney, and minced no words in calling for an end to racial injustice and gun violence in the United States. Obama suddenly began singing “Amazing Grace,” quickly joined by ministers and some of the thousands who packed into the arena at the College of Charleston in South Carolina.
The nation’s first black president called for gun control and efforts to eliminate poverty and job discrimination, and said the Confederate battle flag — long a symbol of Southern pride — must be removed from places of honor.
“For many — black and white — that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation. We see that now,” he said during Pinckney’s funeral Friday.
Dylann Storm Roof, now charged with nine murders, embraced Confederate symbols before the attack, posing with the rebel battle flag and burning the U.S. flag in photos. Their appearance online prompted this week’s stunning political reversals, despite the outsized role such symbols have played in Southern identity.
Hours later, a woman was arrested early Saturday on the grounds of the South Carolina Capitol in Columbia after scaling a flagpole to rip down a Confederate flag that flew at the Statehouse. Bree Newsome, 30, was arrested immediately afterward. She and James Ian Tyson, 30, also of Charlotte, face misdemeanor charges in the incident.
An official at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center said both were released from jail Saturday after posting bond.
Collins and Bruce Smith reported from Columbia, South Carolina. Associated Press Writers Jonathan Drew in Charleston and Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.
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