Roof’s manifesto: ‘I have no choice’
Hate, hurt and healing converge in Charleston’s Neck neighborhood
CHARLESTON, S.C. — The glow of their phones lighted up their faces in the night. Terrell White and his friends kept looking down at the updates, trying to separate rumor from conspiracy theory from actual fact. It was 9 o’clock— 24 hours after a suspected white gunman had killed nine black people at church two miles to the south — and here on King Street, the struggle to understand was underway.
“People at Bible study, hearing God’s word?” White said, shaking his head. “That’s no heart. That’s no fear.”
“That’s white America,” said Abdul Denmark, a barber at Fresh Cuts No. 2.
“Man, I wish we had some answers,” White said.
Up and down this low-income stretch of King Street are the footprints of the slain: several pastors, a state senator, a librarian who spent 21 years at a library where bouquets of flowers were now jammed into the handles of the locked front doors.
King Street runs for several miles and connects the two recent tragedies that have come to define Charleston — the shooting death earlier this year of an unarmed blackman by a white police officer several miles to the north and the tragedy Wednesday night at a historic black church in the heart of downtown. But it’s this neighborhood in the middle known as the Neck where the chronic ache of poverty and racial disparity can always be found.
Missing are the protests and public outrage that have accompanied racially charged killings in other cities across the United States. Instead, there has been a kind of quiet that lasted all night Thursday and continued into Friday, when the sun came up and the John L. Dart Branch Library on King Street did not open as usual. The lights were off, and the doors were locked in honor of one of the victims, Cynthia Hurd, the 54-year-old librarian everyone called Miss Cynthia. In 2011, Hurd was promoted to another library in a different part of the city, but she never really left the small branch on King Street, returning weekly and calling daily.
“Y’all closed today?” a man asked Kim Williams-Odom, the current librarian who was using her master keys to open the front doors. Williams-Odom was Hurd’s protégé. Though the library was closed, the book deposit needed emptying and the returns processed. In the silence, Williams-Odom flipped on the lights and set her keys down. That’s when she saw the bouquets of flowers brought in by the cleaning crew. There was writing on the wrapping paper. “What is this?” Williams-Odom said, leaning down. She shut her eyes after reading the inscription.
From the Romney Street Kids. Mike, Tigger, Talik, Jake.
More knocks were at the front door as Williams-Odom told people they could try the library downtown.
“This is my library,” said a man with a book bag, unaware of the loss.
The news of Hurd’s death was slow to spread. Not every household in the neighborhood had a TV or Internet connection. Plenty did, though, and before lunchtime, in barbershops and cramped living rooms, on TVs with flat screens and rabbit ears, reports were being read aloud of the killer’s racial epithets just before he shot the victims. People wondered how the gunman had escaped to North Carolina so easily before his arrest.
“Because the police didn’t even put up roadblocks,” said one man, watching from a lawn chair inside a little market.
“Fleeing the city of Charleston, you have 17 South and 17 North and 26 West,” said another. “Why didn’t they shut ’ em down automatically?”
“They’re baby-feeding us information,” said another.
Around 3 p.m., there was the sight of a crisp police uniform on the sidewalk. Deputy Chief of Police Jerome Taylor was dropping in on businesses to quell any rumors about conspiracy theories. Taylor, whois black and a native of Charleston, was going on little sleep. On Wednesday night, he walked out of Bible study, turned on his phone, and learned that four blocks away a terrible thing had just happened at another church. Taylor raced over to see several of his lifelong friends dead.
Now on Friday afternoon, the deputy chief was in the bright hot sun of King Street, where buildings all around were being closed and demolished. The Ellen Bright Reception Hall, that for 33 years hosted wedding receptions, graduation parties and “crab cracks,” was shutting down in a week. Taylor was a familiar sight.
People in passing cars slowed down to yell hello. A yellow school bus stopped, and the driver opened the door. “Hey, Jerome, gimme a call!”
“I realize the magnitude of this event,” said Taylor, continuing on his rounds.
Still the afternoon was quiet, almost glazed by the heat. A printing business hung a small banner mourning the tragedy. Anger and heartbreak did not take to the streets.
“This is our town; we’re all we have,” said Monique Holmes inside her cousin’s insurance agency on King Street. “If we tear it up, where do we go?”
Instead, Holmes was at the computer waiting for the video feed from the courtroom where the victims’ family members spoke at the accused killer’s bond hearing. Hearing the broken voices offering forgiveness, she understood perfectly. “You can’t move on from hate or hurt without healing,” she said. “You need those three H’s.”
Around 6, the sun started to recede. It was starting to get cool enough for the kids in the neighborhood to come outside. They gave chase in old sneakers and twisted each other’s arms and ran themselves silly on the cracked asphalt. Some of the houses were so old and decrepit they looked like rotten stacks of Popsicle sticks. The ones that had been newly renovated had Caribbean colored front doors and Nike running shoes on the porch.
“What happened to you?” said Mike Williams, 9.
“I busted my knee,” said Talik Brown, 10.
It was their names on the bouquets of flowers left at the library for Miss Cynthia.
They didn’t want to talk about it. Instead they wrestled or discussed dinner.
“My granddaddy is inside cooking crabs,” said Williams, wiping the sweat from his face. “Hey,” he asked his other sweaty friends, “Y’all need a napkin?” In three minutes, he was back with tissue and everyone was wiping his face.
Eventually someone brought up the shootings at the church.
“At first, I thought it was, like, two black people and they probably shot at each other,” said Tony Harvey, a 12-year-old with a fade and a stick-on tattoo of a superhero on his chest. “I was watching ‘Sports Center.’ They said it was a white man. A man killed my peo- ple in church. I said, ‘Daddy, I’m scared. Would it be okay to go over there and kill him?’ ”
Harvey’s grandfather was the pastor at the church they were playing in front of, Gethsemane Baptist.
He said, “‘Just pray, and South Carolina will be okay.’ ”
It was time to go inside. “I know God is protecting me,” the 12-yearold said
An hour later, it was dark again, and that was when the quiet of the neighborhood gave way. A great thunderous noise was coming from Gethsemane Baptist Church.
Inside, two gospel singers with microphones were up at the altar while a band played, the amps turned up high. At first, the pews were empty, but one by one people arrived until there was no parking. Over and over, the singers repeated a chorus. Let your children ride. Let your peace ride. Let your love ride.
As the song picked up, so did the band. On drums was Troy Harvey, his fear and anger gone, replaced by his method of understanding— drumsticks moving quick and fast, his head nodding, as the singers sang it again:
Let it ride. Let it ride.
Posted on Dylann Roof’sWeb site were a manifesto and 60 photos, including this image of him holding a Confederate flag and a gun.
Sammi Smalls, the 44-year-old owner of Fresh Cuts No. 2 on King Street in Charleston, S.C., trims the hair of a client. The deadly shootings last week at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church has left residents of the Charleston neighborhood known as the Neck in mourning.
ABOVE: Al “Hollywood” Meggett, 84, leans against the ropes in his boxing gymon King Street in Charleston. Meggett moved to the city in 1979 and has had the gymfor 33 years. “My kids get pushed up north, and they can’t come back because it’s too expensive,” Meggett says.
LEFT: Joe Green, a 30-year resident of Charleston, walks his dog Rocky just off King Street. “The change is a Catch22. It’s sad to watch people leave,” Green says. “It hurts, I guess, but it’s part of the times.”