Remembering Clementa Pinckney, killed in Charleston church shooting

Pinckney, a South Carolina state senator, was the pastor of historic black church targeted in mass shooting

Rev. Clementa Pinckney speaks at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina December 31, 2012.

Clementa Pinckney, a state senator and pastor of a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, was among the nine people killed in what authorities are calling a hate crime at the church on Wednesday.

Pinckney, 41, was the pastor at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, one of the oldest African-American houses of worship in the country.

In a sermon delivered at a YWCA event in late April entitled "Requiem on Racism," Pinckney said that love alone could end racism. "Irregardless of our faiths, our ethnicities, where we are from, together we come in love," he said. "Together we come to bury racism, to bury bigotry, and to resurrect and revive love, compassion, and tenderness."

A married father of two, Pinckney was elected to the state house at age 23 in 1997, making him the youngest member of the house at the time. "I think my age is an advantage: I'm not set in my ways and not set in old ways," Pinckney told The Post and Courier, a local newspaper, after his election to the state senate in 2001. "Just like slavery needed to die out, old ideas need to die out. Being young allows me to be open-minded."    

Democratic State House Minority leader Todd Rutherford remembered Pinckney early Thursday. "He never had anything bad to say about anybody, even when I thought he should," Rutherford told The Associated Press. Pinckney "was always out doing work either for his parishioners or his constituents. He touched everybody.”

Abraham Belanger, pastor of the First Fruits Community Church in nearby Summerville, expressed his condolences for Pinckney, whom he called a "great man." 

Pinckney was a “man that really influenced all walks of life," Belanger told Al Jazeera. "He was able to bring people together at a grassroots level and at the same time, in his political status and position he held in the state and in the government, he was and was able to bring all parties together.”

Pinckney, together with the Rev. Al Sharpton, led a prayer vigil for Walter Scott, an unarmed black man shot by white police officer Michael Slager in Charleston in April. In response to Scott's killing, Pinckney pushed the state legislature to require police officers to wear body cameras. "Body cameras help to record what happens," a local NBC news affiliate reported Pinckney as saying in May. "It may not be the golden ticket, the golden egg, the end-all-fix-all, but it helps to paint a picture of what happens during a police stop."

Pinckney was an active supporter of Hillary Clinton’s bid for the 2016 Democratic presidential ticket and spent his last day campaigning with her in Charleston, according to MSNBC. He was also an advocate for reproductive rights. 

Pinckney was born in 1973 to John and Theopia Pinckney.  According to a 2001 profile in The Post and Courier, his parents divorced when he was in the fourth grade, and he was raised by his mother, along with two brothers and a sister.  His father lived a couple of miles down the road. "My mother would work three and four jobs to make ends meet,” Pinckney told the newspaper.  “She taught me that you make sacrifices for the people you care about."

Pinckney said that he heard the call to preach when he was 13. At 18, he was ordained as an elder. He graduated magna cum laude from Allen University in 1995, and got a master’s degree from the University of South Carolina in public administration.

He said he came from a long line of preachers who believed in social change. "Our church was founded on social policy,” Pinckney told The Post and Courier. “We have always been vocal about social equality since the 1700s. I come from that tradition. It's part of who I am. I truly want to make a difference."

He married in 1999. He and his wife, Jennifer Benjamin, have two children, Eliana and Malana.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press. Azure Gilman contributed reporting.


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