It is not very often that the actions of one person can bring about a dramatic change in the attitude of an entire nation.
But that precisely is what 21 year old Dylann Roof accomplished when he went into the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and shot nine persons in cold blood last week.
Roof said he wanted to start a race war, but his murderous rampage ironically has brought about the opposite reaction. Beyond moving Southern politicians to take down the Confederate battle flag from its place of official recognition in the Southern states (they finally are admitting that the Confederate flag is a symbol of nothing more than slavery, segregation, and racial hatred), Roof’s horrific act has shown that hate speech and racist attitudes by the media and politicians can have tragic consequences when they inspire people like Roof to put those hateful words into action.
The nine persons who died in their church are martyrs no less than those who gave their lives 50 years ago in the name of civil rights and racial equality. Just as all Americans of a certain generation instantly recognize the names of Viola Liuzzo (who was shot in her car in the aftermath of the march in Selma, Alabama in 1965) and Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman (who were murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan in complicity with the local sheriff in Philadelphia, Mississippi, in the summer of 1964), so too will the names of the Mother Emanuel Nine — Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel L. Simmons, Sharonda Singleton, and Myra Thompson — who ranged in age from 26 to 87, be remembered decades from now by all Americans who today are old enough to understand what happened last week in Charleston.
We grieve with the families of the murder victims, but we trust they can take some solace in knowing that their loved ones died for a higher cause that hopefully will bring about a lasting, positive change in race relations in our country for the benefit of all Americans.