Denmark Vessey, a dignified and well-educated former slave helped found “Mother” Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church in Charleston, SC. He planned a slave rebellion in 1822 and was hanged along with more than 30 others. Following a bitter 18-year struggle in the face of white supremacist opposition and a big fund-raising campaign, a statue was erected in a Charleston park in his honor during 2014.
Among the leaders of the effort to memorialize Vessey was South Carolina State Senator Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was assassinated by a white supremacist terrorist, along with eight other people, during Bible study at that church on June 17, 2015, the anniversary of the day Vessey’s uprising was to have taken place.
In the aftermath of the 2015 killings, the Confederate flag was finally removed from the South Carolina statehouse following a decades-long campaign by unions, churches, and civil rights organizations. White supremacist statuary and icons glorifying the slave-holders’ rebellion, mostly erected during the Twentieth Century as an ideological prop for Jim Crow segregation and to threaten and demean African-Americans, are now being removed from public spaces at an accelerating pace.
The time has come to honor the true heroes in the fight for freedom and to acknowledge that Black Lives Matter.
Considering the murder of Heather Hayer in Charlottesville, VA, by a racist thug while cops whistled Dixie, this struggle assumes even greater urgency.
This piece was originally produced just three days after the 2015 Charleston Church massacre to accompany a letter of condolences to the church, friends, and family of the victims. In 2016 and 2017 I included it in showings of my exhibit “Seven Deadly Sins, Plus a Few.”
Sources: Original Photography & protest video