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Charleston Church Massacre: Learn More About the Revered House of Worship

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Courtesy Spencer Means/Flickr; Inset:Wade Spees/The Post And Courier/AP

The Charleston, South Carolina, church that was the site of Wednesday night’s hate crime/massacre that killed 9 people, including State Senator Clementa Pinckney, has a storied past stretching from the time of slavery to the civil rights movement.

The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, known locally as “Mother Emanuel,” is the oldest African Methodist Episcopal church in the Southern United States. It also houses the oldest black congregation south of Baltimore, Maryland. The church is listed among the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places.

The church has played a large role in the religious development of the city’s African-American community. In the 1820s the building was burned down after Denmark Vesey, one of the church founders, organized a slave rebellion – but authorities intervened, resulting in “mass hysteria” throughout the South.

Worship services were held underground from 1834 to 1865, a time when African-American churches were outlawed. In 1865, the church was formally recognized, according to its website.

About a century later it was again a point of controversy.

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In 1962, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Wyatt T. Walker of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference urged members to register and vote.

A few years later, author and activist Coretta Scott King led 1,500 demonstrators to the church in support of striking hospital workers, where they were met by national guards and bayonets. The church’s pastor and 900 demonstrators were arrested.