A Tribute to the Nine Charleston Martyrs of Faith

Their Legacy Calls Us to Renewed Prayerful Action

by Angelique Walker-Smith
Senior Associate for Pan African Church Engagement


Bread for the World June 24, 2015


Thousands will gather today and the next few days to mourn, bury and celebrate the lives of the nine martyrs of faith from Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. How do we know they were martyrs? In this case, the great suffering and violent death of the nine while exercising their faith in the church during their acts of praying and studying the Bible suggests this. Yet it is the powerful legacy of their lives of faith shared through the testimonies of family and friends left behind that help us understand the importance of these last moments of the dearly departed. The legacy of their lives now rest with them and us as we see where their testimonies have affected the spirit and legal processes concerning the alleged murder suspect and a renewed movement to tear down the strongholds and symbols of racial hatred and bigotry in South Carolina and other places.

Hebrews 12:1-3 states the following.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

The writer of Hebrews refers to those who are the departed and those left behind. The families left behind in Charleston begged Dylan Roof to turn to God, prayed for his soul, invited him to repent and expressed forgiveness of him in the presence of him and the presiding Judge. One could not help but be moved by the power of their forgiveness and spirit of love not only for their departed family members but for their embrace of the teachings of Jesus Christ that set their beloved apart.

African American people of faith have historically not given up on the hope they have found in God and the possibility of positive change despite the horror and violence of racism in this country. The Christian based Civil Rights movement with its core value of nonviolence is an illustration of this. Such is in keeping with the great legacy of the Church Biblically and historically.

Today, we are left with the question of what kind of witness are we leaving behind? The systemic issues of hunger and poverty are at the center of what contributes to conflict and violence in our world. The disparity of what some have versus what others do not have continues to plague our cities, nation and world. At the heart of this is evil in our world. May the legacy of the Emanuel AME martyrs and the testimonies of their descendants feed our souls and actions so that we can more fully receive the invitation to join the great cloud of witnesses of love and action.