Before we knew a young white man named Dylann Roof existed, my wife and I would get a good chuckle out of a story from Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church in Georgetown, South Carolina. It’s the church where my wife grew up, where we said our vows in the summer of 1998, where we recently held a funeral service for her 82-year-old father.
The initials stand for African Methodist Episcopal, a denomination founded by a former slave tired of being discriminated against by white Christians. In the two centuries since its establishment, it has grown into roughly 7,000 congregations along with associated colleges and theological institutions. The World Council of Churches has estimated its membership at roughly 2.5 million.
The area surrounding Mt. Zion is awash in history. It’s an hour’s drive from where in 1861 Citadel cadets fired upon Fort Sumner, kicking off the Civil War. It’s about 15 minutes away from a steel mill that has been shuttered and restarted multiple times over the past decade, where some of the white supervisors in the 1970s were illiterate and required their lower-paid black employees to read the safety instructions on dangerous equipment. It’s tucked away in a pine forest containing dozens of modest, well-kept homes owned by a mostly black population. There are also former plantations where enslaved Africans once toiled, properties still owned by wealthy white families who rely upon black labor to keep them operational and clean.
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