In Charleston, Cyn­thia Hurd is re­mem­bered

Fam­ily and friends pay trib­ute to a li­brar­ian who served as a men­tor to kids

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY DAN MORSE

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.

JOE RAEDLE/GETTY IM­AGES

“She just loved life,” Mal­colm Graham said of his sis­ter Cyn­thia Hurd. A photo gallery is at wash­ing­ton­post.com/na­tional.

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