President Obama eulogized the Rev. Clementa Pinckney in Charleston Friday, nine days after a gunman killed the pastor and eight other people at Bible study in a historic black South Carolina church.
“We are here today to remember a man of God who lived by faith, a man who believed in things not seen, a man who believed there were better days ahead off in the distance,” the president said at funeral services for Pinckney at the TD Arena in Charleston. “He believed his efforts would deliver a better life for those who followed.”
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The most emotional moments during the nearly 40-minute eulogy came when the president led the crowd of 5,500 people in singing the hymn “Amazing Grace.”
In addition to memorializing Pinckney and those killed last week, the president used the eulogy to address the state of race relations and the growth of gun violence in this country.
“Maybe we now realize the way racial bias can infect us even when we don’t realize it,” the president said. “For too long, we’ve been blind to the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts on this nation.
“It would be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for if we allow ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again,” the president said. “Once the eulogies have been delivered, once the TV cameras move on, to go back to business as usual. That’s what we so often do.”
Obama first met Pinckney in 2007 during his first campaign for president, he said.
“I cannot claim to have the good fortune to know Reverend Pinckney well, but I did have the pleasure of knowing him, meeting him here in South Carolina back when we were both a little bit younger,” he said to laughter.
The president recounted Pinckney’s work as a pastor, as well as his career in the state Senate, saying he always worked to help others.
“He was full of empathy and fellow feeling,” the president said. “What a good man. Sometimes I think that’s the best thing to hope for when you eulogize. After all the words and recitations and resumes are read, to just say somebody was a good man.”
Along with honoring Pinckney, the president memorialized the eight others killed during the Bible study last week.
“To lose him at 41, slain in his sanctuary, with eight wonderful members of his flock, each at different stages in life but bound together by a common commitment to God,” he said. “People so full of life and so full of kindness. People who ran the race and persevered. People of great faith.”
The president also praised the resilience of Mother Emanuel AME Church, saying it serves as a “sacred place” that embodies the expansion of liberty and justice for all Americans.
The president specifically referenced alleged gunman Dylann Roof, whom he described as “blinded by hatred.” The president said the suspect, 21, never could have imagined the unity and forgiveness that emerged in the aftermath of a shooting said to have been fueled by racial hate.
“He didn’t know he was being used by God,” the president said of the shooter, later adding he didn’t realize “how the United states of America would respond not only at revulsion at his evil act but with big-hearted generosity and more importantly with the thoughtful introspection and examination that we so rarely see in public life.”
The president touched on the divisive nature of the Confederate flag, which was touted by the alleged killer, prompting many across the country, including South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, to call for its removal from the South Carolina state Capitol grounds.
“It’s true a flag did not cause these murders,” the president said. “As we all have to acknowledge, the flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride. For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation. We see that now.
“Removing the flag from this state’s capitol would not be an act of political correctness, it would not be an insult to the valor of confederate soldiers it would simply be an acknowledgement that the cause for each they fought, the cause of slavery was wrong,” he added to standing ovation. “By taking down that flag, we express God’s grace.”
Obama met with Pinckney’s family before the service, the White House says. He was scheduled to meet the families of the other victims after the service concluded.
First lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Dr. Jill Biden also attended the funeral services. A congressional delegation, which included House Speaker John Boehner, traveled aboard Air Force One to the funeral. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who also knew Pinckney, also traveled to Charleston for the funeral.