The unspeakable murder of nine accomplished, beloved and respected African-American Charlestonians of faith in their own church last week hit our city like an earthquake.
These murders occurred in my neighborhood, across the street from Buist Academy, the public magnet school my daughter and son attended with their white, black and Hispanic classmates.
This is not our Charleston.
Charlestonians do not believe in hate, lawlessness, racism or violence. “The Holy City,” as Charlestonians like to call their home, has from its birth in 1670 had the greatest respect for all religions and all places of worship. These killings have outraged each and every one of us.
Here stands one of the oldest Jewish congregations in America, my temple, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, founded in 1749 across the street from the oldest Catholic Church in the South, St. Mary’s.
This is the city of our internationally respected mayor, Joseph P. Riley, who, beginning 40 years ago, named black Charlestonians to every top position in city government.
This is the city that recently built a memorial to Denmark Vesey, a leader of a slave revolt in 1822 and a member of the same church where the murders took place: Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the oldest black church south of Baltimore.
This is a city that sponsors an annual Arts Festival, MOJA (Swahili for “One”), celebrating African-American and other minority cultures.
A heinous murder by an evil person who was not from our city cannot change that.
The Jewish community of Charleston will stand shoulder to shoulder with the black community, as it has for years. Our rabbis have urged us to attend prayer vigils and other community outpourings of solidarity.
I am sure in the days ahead we will hear all about Charleston’s bloodstained history. It is true that Charleston was the city that imported more slaves from Africa than any other in America. It was the very heart of the Confederacy.
These facts and tragedies cannot be denied, but they do not define us in 2015. It has been a long road from then to now.
Charlestonians have lived together in peace for 150 years since the Civil War. Charleston was no Birmingham or Selma. The city desegregated peacefully in the 1960s. Charleston was the first place in South Carolina where public facilities and schools were integrated. And there was a reason for that: the people of Charleston.
Our city officials and African-American leaders never tolerated violence against civil rights protesters or the police. Indeed, Coretta Scott King and Andrew Young spoke to an overflow crowd at Emanuel during the hospital strike of 1969, which was national news. There was no violence — not from the protesters and not from the police.
Every true Charlestonian is grieving now. Somehow, knowing my city and its people as I do, something positive will come of this tragedy.
Robert N. Rosen is a third-generation Charlestonian. He is a lawyer, a former assistant city attorney and the author of several books.