Obama eulogizes South Carolina senator killed in church shooting

President pays tribute to Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was killed last week at Emanuel AME church in Charleston

Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the South Carolina state senator killed in the mass shooting at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, was memorialized Friday in a eulogy delivered by President Barack Obama. Pinckney, who was also pastor at Mother Emanuel, as the church is known, and eight others died on June 17 after a 21-year–old man with self-professed white supremacist beliefs allegedly opened fire during a bible study class.

The president called Pinckney an advocate for justice both in the statehouse and in his church. Pinckney, Obama said, “embodies the idea that our Christian faith demands deed and not just words.”

“He conducted himself quietly and kindly and diligently,” said the president to a crowd of thousands packed into the College of Charleston’s TD Arena. “He encouraged progress not just by pushing his ideas but by seeking out your ideas.”

Obama also spoke about the need to make strides against racism and promote equality, both economic and social, among Americans. He hailed recent efforts to remove the Confederate battle flag from public places as “a modest but meaningful balm” for those who see it as a reminder of the country’s painful past and troubled present.

The president touched briefly again on U.S. gun violence, an issue the White House has tried to raise in the wake of several high-profile shootings in recent years, only to run each time into opposition and inaction in Congress.

“The vast majority of Americans and the majority of gun owners want to do something about this,” Obama said.

The ceremony began earlier Friday morning with sermons from other religious leaders, who praised the life and character of Pinckney.

“Rev. Clementa Pinckney walked the talk,” Rev. Ronnie Elijah Brailsford, pastor of Bethel AME in Columbia, said at the event. “Rev. Pinckney lived the faith he preached and taught. He loved God, he loved people, he was humble, caring, compassionate, encouraging. He was a counselor, a mentor, a pastor par excellence, a phenomenal human being.”

Another pastor, Rev. Dr. John Gillson, described Pinckney as both a family and community man.

“A family man, he was. He served our church well. He served our government well. And therefore, he became a special piece of art,” Gillson said. “Now, his work is done.”

The father of two was killed last Wednesday at Emanuel AME, where authorities say Roof attended a prayer meeting before opening fire and killing nine people.

Following the shooting, the senator’s body lay in state at the South Carolina statehouse in Columbia, where a confederate flag flew at a Civil War memorial nearby.

His alleged killer's reverence for the flag reignited a firestorm of debate over its display on state property. Gov. Nikki Haley on Monday called for the flag to come down, introducing a bill to remove it permanently from state grounds.

Pinckney began preaching at the age of 13. Ten years later he became the youngest African-American in South Carolina history to be elected to the state legislature. At 26, he became a state senator, Charleston’s Post and Courier reported.

The senator was a beloved member of the Charleston community. Several thousand people turned out on Thursday evening for his wake at Emanuel AME. The line of mourners stretched for three blocks, according to reports.

"I cried when I got here," said Katharine Moseley, a Texas bus driver who drove 20 hours from Austin. "I was raised in the AME church."

Lutheran bishop Mike Rhyne drove from central Pennsylvania to pay respects to Pinckney, an old friend and classmate at seminary school. "He was one of the best men I have ever met," Rhyne said.

Pinckney's high school friends Kevin Riley, 41, and Lachandra Colbert, 42, traveled from Maryland for the funeral. "We wouldn't miss this. He was our classmate," said Riley. "He was on track to be someone really important.”

Pinckney was 41, and is survived by his wife Jennifer and two children, Malana and Eliana. 

Al Jazeera and wire services

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