In a rousing eulogy punctuated by organ riffs, clapping and the occasional “Amen,” the president remembered and praised the life work of state Sen. Clementa Pinckney of South Carolina, who was also the pastor of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.
“We are here today to a remember a man of God who lived by faith, a man who believed in things not seen, a man who believed there were better days ahead off in the distance,” said the president, holding back no emotion, in beginning the eulogy for the service at the TD Arena in Charleston. “He believed his efforts would deliver a better life for those who followed.”
The president called Pinckney a “good man” who was “full of empathy and fellow feeling.”
“Sometimes I think that’s the best thing to hope for when you eulogize: after all the words and recitations and resumes are read, to just say somebody was a good man,” Obama added.
Obama expressed remorse over losing the dedicated pastor and well-liked legislator, along with eight of his congregants. He described accused shooter Dylann Roof as a person “blinded by hatred.”
“He failed to comprehend what Rev. Pinckney so well understood—the power of God’s grace,” Obama said. “He’s given us the chance where we’ve been lost to find our best selves. We may not have earned it, this grace, with our rancor and complacency short-sightedness and fear of each other, but we got it all the same.”
The president used the moment to weigh in on government displays of the Confederate flag, a matter that has been debated across the nation since Roof’s apparent attachment to the archaic symbol was shown in photos found online immediately after the shooting.
“By taking down that flag, we express God’s grace,” Obama professed.
“It’s true. The flag did not cause these murders,” he added. “[But] we all have to acknowledge the flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride. For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation. We see that now.”
Obama rounded out his speech with a moving chorus of “Amazing Grace.”