South Carolina church where 9 were killed was steeped in history
David Goldman/AP Photo
(ABC) -- The South Carolina church that was the site of Wednesday night's massacre is steeped in historic significance stretching from the time of slavery to the civil rights movement. Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, built in 1891, is the oldest of its kind in the South and is listed among the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places.
The place of worship, led by the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, turned into a crime scene when police say a gunman opened fire during a regularly scheduled prayer group. Nine people have been confirmed dead and the shooter remains at large.
Emanuel AME Church, known locally as "Mother Emanuel," played an large role in the development of the city's religious community for African Americans in the late 1700s and early 1800s, according to their website.
The original church was associated with a planned slave revolt in the 1820s and the building was burned down during that time.
One of the church founders, Denmark Vesey, organized the revolt, but authorities foiled the plot, which created "mass hysteria" in the area, the website said.
Vesey was among 35 who were arrested and executed as a result, the Parks Service said.
The church's website states that it held underground worship services from 1834 through 1865, during which time African-American churches were outlawed.
In 1865, the church was formally recognized and it took the name "Emanuel."
Roughly a century later it was also a flashpoint for controversy.
Civil rights activist Coretta Scott King led an estimated crowd of 1,500 demonstrators to the church in an April 1969 protest, according to "Civil Rights in South Carolina: From Peaceful Protests to Groundbreaking Rulings." The demonstrators faced national guardsmen with fixed bayonets.
King was not arrested, the book states, but the church's Reverend was along with 900 others.