We, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, continue to be outraged by racially motivated hate crimes committed across the globe that fuel conflict and war. The stubborn and persistent racism in the United States continues to be one of the elevated priorities to address in our advocacy. We are saddened and frustrated that this continued racism claimed the lives of nine members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston, South Carolina. WILPF International and WILPF US stand in opposition to all racism, oppression and injustice in this and every nation across the globe. WILPF envisions a transformed world at peace, where there is racial, social, and economic justice for all people. All people deserve the right to equally participate in making the decisions that affect them. On the evening of June 17, 2015, during a prayer meeting, Dylan Roof made a tragic decision for the members of Emanuel AME Church that resulted in the death of nine innocent African American worshipers.
As we have learned from the Emanuel AME Church’s website, the history of African Methodist Episcopal Churches in the United States began in 1787, when Richard Allen and others of African descent withdrew from St. George’s Methodist Church in Philadelphia because of racist treatment and restrictions placed upon the worshipers of African descent. After Allen left St. George’s Methodist Church, he and his followers purchased a blacksmith shop for thirty-five dollars. From the blacksmith shop they worshipped and helped the sick and the poor. The blacksmith shop was converted into a church. They called the new church Bethel.
In 1816 Allen called together sixteen representatives from Bethel African Church in Philadelphia and African churches in Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey to meet in Philadelphia. The movement blossomed and the African Methodist Episcopal Church was organized, with Richard Allen as its first Bishop. The AME Church has never strayed from the course charted by Richard Allen. The church is wedded to the spiritual doctrine of “God our Father, Christ our Redeemer, Man our Brother.”
The history of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church reflects the development of religious institutions as safe havens for African Americans in Charleston. In 1822 the church was investigated for its involvement with a planned slave revolt. Denmark Vesey, one of the church’s founders, organized a major slave uprising in Charleston. During the Vesey controversy, the AME church was burned. Worship services continued after the church was rebuilt until 1834 when all black churches were outlawed. The congregation continued the tradition of the African church by worshipping underground until 1965 when it was formally reorganized, and the name Emanuel was adopted, meaning “God with us.”
We mourn the loss of those slain on June 17 at their Bible-study meeting: Emanuel AME Church ministers Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was the senior pastor of the church and also served as a state senator, Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Rev. Daniel L. Simmons Sr.; DePayne Middleton Doctor – who was studying to be a minister; as well as Sexton Ethel Lee Lance; church members Tywanza Sanders, Cynthia Hurd and Susie Jackson; and Myra Thompson, wife of Rev. Anthony Thompson, Vicar of Charleston’s Holy Trinity Reformed Episcopal Church.
As we in WILPF begin the second century of our advocacy to end war, we will reflect on the lives lost in this tragedy and honor their legacy with dignity and respect. This act on June 17 was not the act of a single madman. It is, sadly and outrageously, merely one act in a history of systematic racist violence and terror against those who are Black or Brown or Asian or Hispanic or Native American, or Latina/o in this country.
We, the members of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, acknowledge the history of African American churches being attacked as one of crimes against humanity. We also acknowledge the fact that systemic racism and oppression are the roots of all war across the globe. We call for an explicit action to combat racism nationally and globally. We emphasize the need for immediate action to end all forms of violence and discrimination against those who are seen as different. We call for stronger efforts on advancing racial, social and economic justice to end war. There can be no peace without freedom, and no freedom as long as racism exists.