Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

Black Scholars on the Charleston Massacre (Lest We Forget)

October 20th, 2015 by Ajuan Mance

Historic image of the Stewardesses of Charleston’s Emanuel A.M.E. Church, from The Afrikan Voice.


Charleston, I am beyond words. My ancestry runs deep both in South Carolina and in the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) church, and I hurt for the Black people of your city, your state, and our nation.

While no words or ideas can undo the violence that was done to the members of Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church, the following thoughts, shared by some of the nation’s most brilliant Black thinkers and writers, might provide some affirmation of our sense of injustice, our rage, and our grief.


Survival for black folk during slavery, Jim Crow and well beyond necessitated thousands of small demonstrations of pleasant compliance toward white people. This didn’t just mean crossing the street when a white person approached; it meant keeping your eyes down while you did it. It didn’t just mean stepping off the curb for a white person; it meant smiling as you did it.

Today, it means that when I discuss these shootings with my white students and my heart is bursting at the seams with outrage and grief, I must keep my voice and gestures gentle and calm and validate my students’ most hurtful comments so they don’t feel personally indicted.

Dr. Chenjerai Kumanyika, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies, Clemson University, for


During a week when what it means to black was debated, the beautiful souls of Emanuel AME showed us with a powerful clarity. Beyond the legal construction of blackness by courts and census, beyond the dangerous and inaccurate biological construction of blackness by racist scientists and ignorant scholars, beyond the social construction of blackness by media and popular culture, Emanuel showed us what history has proven. Blackness is not only about being of African descent/ascent. To be black is to stand strong in the face of terror. To resist the temptation to give in to fear. To march on, no matter how hard the struggle. To hold onto one’s faith, even when hate is sitting right next to you.

The Reverend Chaz Howard, PhD., University Chaplain at the University of Pennsylvania, for the Huffington Post


I ask that while we mourn this tragedy and other tragedies, we challenge ourselves and those around us to think on what we can do to change the status quo. What will we do to change a system that was not designed by us or for us?

Nicole Angela Tilson, graduate student, Yale University, for the Huffington Post


We live in a country where Americans assimilate corpses in their daily comings and goings. Dead blacks are a part of normal life here. Dying in ship hulls, tossed into the Atlantic, hanging from trees, beaten, shot in churches, gunned down by the police or warehoused in prisons: Historically, there is no quotidian without the enslaved, chained or dead black body to gaze upon or to hear about or to position a self against.

Award-winning poet Claudia Rankine, Professor of English, Pomona College, for the New York Times


I was not surprised by Roof’s age. Outspokenness of white supremacists may be on the decline, but white supremacist ideology exists in a range of ages.

–Dr. R. L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy, Associate Professor of Sociology at the City University of New York, for the Huffing Post

Posted by Ajuan Mance


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