In Charleston, Cynthia Hurd is remembered
Family and friends pay tribute to a librarian who served as a mentor to kids
charleston, s.c. — Ten days ago, Cynthia Hurd arrived at a Bible study in the basement of her longtime church here, part of a group that welcomed a mophaired stranger to join them. After an hour, he allegedly pulled out a gun and started shooting, killing Hurd and eight others.
On Saturday, more than 800 mourners squeezed into Emanuel AME Church to pay tribute to the beloved 54-year-old librarian. An additional 150 sat downstairs, in the basement where the gunfire had erupted, quietly watching the service on closed-circuit TV.
“She just loved life,” Hurd’s brother Malcolm Graham said from the pulpit, one of several speakers who recalled her life.
Hurd grew up in Charleston with five siblings. She worked at an ice cream shop. She attended Emanuel AME and would give the opening prayer at Sunday youth services. Then she was off to Clark Atlanta University, where she got a mathematics degree, before returning to Charleston to begin working for the city’s public library system.
She liked it so much she got a master’s degree in library and information science, and by 1990 she was running a library branch in the city. She got to know the kids who came after school and in the summer, serving as a mentor to many of them. She also served onthe board of commissioners for the city’s low-income housing authority.
“A powerful, powerful person,” Charleston’s library director, Douglas Henderson, said during the service. “She was so powerful that she could lift you with her smile. She was so powerful that no matter who you were or what your station was, she would help you carry your burden.”
Henderson and others also spoke to a broader theme: However terrible the actions of the killer — who authorities believe is an avowed white supremacist bent on inciting a race war — the response has been something the whole world has noticed. Family members of the victims have said they forgive him. People everywhere, of all races, seem to be coming together.
The city’s mayor, Joseph P. Riley Jr., spoke during the service. He told a story of what he had seen the day before, after the funeral service of another of the shooting victims, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney. The burial was about 120 miles away, a route that took Riley through tiny towns.
“I want you to know that at the little crossroads and those communities, people were standing there waiting, waving the American flag,” he said. “It was hot, still about 95 degrees. Black people and white people, standing together, waving the American flag.”
Still, as Riley noted, there is unbearable grief weighing down in Charleston. Just a few feet behind Riley was a large, empty chair draped in black, where Pinckney would have been sitting.
Hurd’s funeral marked the fourth service for the victims in three days. Two other funeral services were held Saturday, and three more services are expected over the next three days.
Hurd’s husband, Arthur Stephen Hurd, is a U.S. Merchant Marine and was at sea the night of the shootings. He made his way home and was in the front of the church Saturday. An insightful note about his marriage to Cynthia could be read in the service program, which had reprinted a question-and-answer that the local newspaper, the Post and Courier, had done with his wife in 2003.
Asked about a single day she’d like to relive, she said: “The day I got married.”
Arthur and Cynthia didn’t have children. But as many observed, to Cynthia there were children everywhere — at the library, among the offspring of her siblings. “She adopted everyone else’s kids,” said Graham.
A resident of North Carolina, Graham related funny stories that captured his sister.
“My family used to get onme all the time because I’m in Charlotte, and I never checked in as often as they wanted me to,” he said. “I didn’t have to — I just called Cynthia, because Cynthia knew everybody’s business. It was just one phone call. And our conversation would go like this: ‘Can I talk? No, I am in the middle of helping a patron. Call me back in 10 minutes.’ ”
He would, and his sister would walk him through what everyone was doing, starting with her husband. “Steve is doing great,” she said recently. “He’s working hard. He loves being on the sea. . . . He is in a good place.”
Graham looked out to his brother-in-law. “She loved you, Steve,” he said.
Graham continued, going over family jokes about their siblings — oldest brother Robert, for instance, was the 50-year security guard who’d never pulled out his gun. Cynthia spoke of her upcoming birthday. “She called it the double-nickel,” Graham said.
Then Graham collected himself before making a final point, his voice halting.
“I understand the national conversation,” he said. “But when the TV cameras are away, and the elected officials go away . . .”
He paused, then tried to list the family members who will have to band together to get through their pain. “It’s me, and Steve and Cynthi-” Graham paused. He’d included his sister’s name as a matter of rote.
Cries broke out in the church. Graham quietly said the name of several more siblings. He broke down, hugged several people and walked back to his seat.
“She just loved life,” Malcolm Graham said of his sister Cynthia Hurd. A photo gallery is at washingtonpost.com/national.