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Charleston, S.C., Residents Call On Each Other To Improve Race Relations


Today marks two weeks since the massacre at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. Nine parishioners were shot to death during a Wednesday night Bible study, allegedly by a self-avowed white supremacist. In the aftermath of the attack, the city has seen public vigils, displays of unity and debates over Confederate symbols in the state. It also sparked a renewed conversation about race relations there. NPR's Sam Sanders spent times talking to people in Charleston about what they see as the way forward.

SAM SANDERS, BYLINE: Jeanetta Hutchinson is waiting in line at Greater St. Luke AME Church in Charleston to pay her respects to Reverend Daniel L. Simmons, Sr. Simmons' funeral is the last of the nine Charleston shooting victims. Hutchinson says she knew him well.

JEANETTA HUTCHINSON: This used to be my minister. He funeralized (ph) my mother, so it's personal. He was a good man.

SANDERS: Hutchinson says she's been happy with the way her city has come together since the tragedy last month. She said she's been feeling the love. She hopes it lasts, and she hopes it's real.

HUTCHINSON: It's not real yet to people. They're pretend love. Pretend love is the after affect. True love's shown after it's over. What are we going to do when it's over?

SANDERS: Hutchinson has some ideas about that true love. For starters, it would mean taking down the Confederate flag and investing heavily in education. And she wants everybody - black people, especially - to be more politically involved. As we talk much, Hutchinson looks over at a group of white people standing outside of the church, holding signs. Hutchinson wonders about them.

HUTCHINSON: It's good, but let's see where tomorrow brings. Just like right now, they could be in our church. Let them come on Sunday and be part of the church. They separate themselves after it's over with.

SANDERS: Who does?

HUTCHINSON: The white folks.

SANDERS: So I went over and talked to the group standing silently, holding signs.

ANNA LAMM: We need to go to each other's churches.

SANDERS: You going to go here?

LAMM: I will.

SANDERS: That's Anna Lamm. She says she will start going to Hutchinson's church. Her group is outside the funeral to prevent protesters from Westboro Baptist Church from disrupting the service. They didn't show.

LAMM: My sign says love wins every single time.

SANDERS: Lamm says the group holding signs has started a fundraiser for the victims' families, and she says she's going to try harder to check her own racial biases.

LAMM: We are here to serve these people. This does not stop when the sign goes in the trash can.

SANDERS: Diana McGoldrick is standing next to Lamm. And she says she'll keep working, as well, but she's not sure how to prevent another racially motivated attack.

DIANA MCGOLDRICK: You know, I wish there was an easy answer to that, but I just don't think there is.

SANDERS: Dwayne Green is black and a lifelong Charlestown resident. He's on the patio of Muse Restaurant on a quiet evening downtown. Green says, you have to look outside of Charleston for the answer, to rural communities.

DWAYNE GREEN: In a white community, loving the Confederate flag and generally thinking poor of black people - I think that there's communities where that is totally OK. Clearly, the lack of diversity in those communities - that's what leads to fostering the type of mentality that Dylann Roof had.

SANDERS: But Green says he doesn't have the solution.

GREEN: You cannot stop mass killings, whatever a mass killer's motivation is.

GERALD HORNE: I think people that are at a lost for coming up with ready solutions because we dug ourselves into a deep hole.

SANDERS: Dr. Gerald Horne studies race at the University of Houston. He says that hole is a hole of racism that's lingered for centuries. And Horne says it's up to more than Charleston to fix that, and it will take time.

HORNE: I think, sadly enough, that in the short term there are no easy answers.

SANDERS: At Muse Bar, manager Andrew Childers - he also says there's no easy fix, but he says at least, Charleston, so far, has handled the shooting gracefully.

ANDREW CHILDERS: I've been really, really surprised and happy by what I've seen.

SANDERS: But Childers isn't sure if Charleston's grace can last.

CHILDERS: If this were to happen again, I don't know what would happen. I mean, you know, people can only take so much.

SANDERS: Sam Sanders, NPR News, Charleston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sam worked at Vermont Public Radio from October 1978 to September 2017 in various capacities – almost always involving audio engineering. He excels at sound engineering for live performances.
Sam Sanders
Sam Sanders is a correspondent and host of It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders at NPR. In the show, Sanders engages with journalists, actors, musicians, and listeners to gain the kind of understanding about news and popular culture that can only be reached through conversation. The podcast releases two episodes each week: a "deep dive" interview on Tuesdays, as well as a Friday wrap of the week's news.

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