The task at hand is to teach, love, understand

More than 80 gather for prayer vigil in wake of Charleston massacre

By Kevin Spradlin

* Photo gallery – more than 300 images
* Video – the Negro National Anthem

ROCKINGHAM — James Clemmons Jr. is as Godly as the next man.

As the county’s top law enforcement officer, he also understands the rule of law. But the second-term sheriff of Richmond County knows one thing to be true: If, he said, “a criminal wants a gun a criminal will get a gun.”

Kevin Spradlin |

Kevin Spradlin |

Clemmons delivered the legislative spear into the heart of more than 80 people who gathered Wednesday evening on Harrington Square in downtown Rockingham to remember the nine victims that lost their lives at the hand of a suspected white supremacist. One week ago, 21-year-old Dylann Roof sat with his soon-to-be victims for about an hour during Bible study inside Mother Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston (S.C.), then opened fire.

Those who died included: Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41; Rev. Sharon Singleton, 45; Myra Thompson, 59; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Ethel Lee Lance, 70; Cynthia Hurd, 54; Rev. Daniel L. Simmons Sr., 74; Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49; and Susie Jackson, 87.

The nine speakers who took to the podium put their faces to the west, towards the setting sun. Their wide-ranging words intended to convey hope for unity and love but put the spotlight on the difficulty of resolving — and the complexity of understanding — the underlying issues.

“We have gotten so far away from the community concept,” Clemmons said, “so far away from brotherly love.”

Instead of promoting legislative help, Clemmons said law-abiding people “have to stand up.”

It’ about more than talking about it at a podium, he said, and yes, even about more than praying about it.

Kevin Spradlin |

Kevin Spradlin |

“Don’t say that God is going to take care of everything,” Clemmons urged. “That’s not how that works.”

Instead, he encouraged everyone to “do what is Godly.”

Doris Rodwell, meanwhile, targeted state and federal lawmakers for help. The political action chair for the Richmond County branch of the NAACP quoted President Barack Obama a day after the incident. Then, the president noted that the United States has more violent deaths by guns than any other civilized nation in the world. She welcomed two U.S. senators who earlier in the day proposed tighter gun control legislation.

Rodwell also said a political shift could come if those in the audience will help “register more people to vote.”

Several speakers noted the safety worshipers felt as they entered their Charleston church — a safety that many likely felt around Harrington Square. In Charleston, however, parishioners didn’t have the luxury of half a dozen law enforcement officers from there different agencies in the crowd.

Rockingham Mayor Steve Morris didn’t blame the Charleston shooter’s racial hatred on modern media, but he did question how parents today allow children to watch violent movies and games on television but then try and teach them that violence is bad.

Former state Sen. Gene McLaurin, meanwhile, focused on the reactions of the family members of the nine victims. Each addressed the shooter when he appeared via closed-circuit television for his initial court appearance in Charleston and spoke of love and forgiveness. To do so less than 48 hours after losing a wife, mother, brother or son, McLaurin said, “is something we should not forget.”

McLaurin said to overcome hate, people must teach, love and understand.

“Of course, we can pray, but we can do so much more than that,” McLaurin said.

Dobbins Heights Mayor Antonio Blue, though, spoke of the importance of religion. He recalled the November 2011 incident in nearby Ansonville. There, Cedar Hill AME Zion Church was one of at least eight places of worship targeted in a deliberate racial attack. Vandals spray painted hate messages on the outside and damaged the inside, including throwing a chair through a stained glass window. In addition, the vandals partially burned a cross, defecated on the altar and dug up a child’s tombstone from the church’s historic slave cemetery and through it through a window. Messages painted on the outside included “God is the devil” and “Go back to Africa.”

Blue brought it back to Rockingham: “If there’s ever been a time we need Jesus, it’s now.”

Blue also made clear his position on a political issue facing both the Carolinas and half a dozen other states across the south. On Tuesday, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley asked state lawmakers to consider moving the Confederate flag from the capitol grounds. On Wednesday in Alabama, the Confederate flag was ordered to be taken down.

On this issue, Blue said, there can be no compromise.

“The only thing they can do is remove that flag,” Blue said.

The hour-long ceremony was organized by the Richmond County chapter of the NAACP’s Religious Affairs Committee in conjunction with local churches, including Mount Zion United Church of Christ, Mount Pisgah AME Zion and Pleasant Hill AME Zion. It closed with the singing of “Life Every Voic and Sing,” the Black National Anthem, penned by James Weldon Johnson for the NAACP as a poem and then set to music by his brother, John Rosamond Johnson, in 1899.

“Life Every Voice and Sing”

Lift ev’ry voice and sing,
‘Til earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list’ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on ’til victory is won.

Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
‘Til now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.


Filed in: Latest Headlines, Outdoors

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