State News

Charleston preacher's widow wants to carry on late husband's work

Posted February 9

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— The widow of the Rev. Clementa Pickney discussed Tuesday night issues forgiveness, justice, and race brought to the forefront by the hate crime at Mother Emanuel Church that took her husband’s life last year.

Pinckney was one of nine people shot and killed at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, last June during a Bible study.

His widow, Jennifer, discussed race and religion in light of the hate crime that took her husband’s life. At one point, she recalled the scary moments for herself and her daughter inside the church when a white supremacist, Dylann Roof, opened fire.

“She heard everything that was going on. Within that moment, she asked me, ‘mom, is daddy going to die’,” said Pinckney.

Before a public forum on faith and race at Duke University, Pinckney met with media to discuss how she finds the courage to cope with her loss.

She said her daughters are a motivating force.

"If you have something to say about your father, say it," she tells them. "Talk about your father. He was a great man."

Jennifer Pinckney said she is confident justice will be served, but she is unable to hold on to hate. She relies on her faith and friends to help rebuild a life for herself and her children.

"It's been difficult to look in the pulpit and not see my husband," she said. "There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about Clementa."

She was joined in Durham by two of her husband's closest friends, Rev. Chris Vaughn and Duke Divinity School alumnus Rev. Kylon Middleton, Ph.D., who have been instrumental in establishing a charitable organization in her husband's memory.

Middleton said black churches must continue the work of racial justice, even as the attention toward the Charleston shooting may fade.

“You cannot ignore the fact that, theologically, we must begin to sound a clarion trumpet, call wrong wrong,” said Middleton.

Middleton said that the act at Mother Emanuel cannot be forgotten, but forgiveness is key. She encourages others to focus on improving the black community rather than retaliation. Pinckney agreed and said her goal now is to continue the work of her late husband.

“I want him to smile down on us. I want him to smile down on me and I want him to be proud. I want to carry on the work that he was doing,” she said.

Rev. Eboni Marshall Turman, Ph.D. of the Duke Divinity School's Office of Black Church Studies, moderated the conversation on the violence that targeted the sanctuary and on the challenging trajectory of healing.

Roof faces both state and federal charges in connection with the nine deaths. He could face the death penalty if he is convicted. A hearing in that case is set for Thursday in Charleston.

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