Born into a family with a legacy of church leadership and civil rights activism, Pinckney graduated magna cum laude from Allen University, where he was elected president of the freshman class, senior class, and student body. He was named one of America’s top college students by Ebony Magazine and received a Princeton University Woodrow Wilson Summer Research Fellowship in the fields of public policy and international affairs. He received a graduate fellowship to the University of South Carolina, where he earned a master’s in public administration.
At age 13, Pinckney felt called to become a pastor and was ordained at age 18. After completing his studies at Allen and USC, he earned a Master of Divinity from Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary. He led churches across the state before becoming the senior pastor at Emanuel AME Church in 2010. At the time of his death, he was pursuing a doctorate at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., which was awarded posthumously.
Pinckney was the youngest African American ever elected to the South Carolina General Assembly, becoming a State Representative at 23 and a Senator at 27. He became known for quietly leading by example, advocating for healthcare and education issues and passionately opposing gun violence.
A gifted orator, Pinckney was a humble public servant with a calm demeanor, a devoted husband to his wife, Jennifer, and loving father to his daughters, Eliana and Malana. President Obama eulogized Pinckney at his funeral, attended By Vice President Joe Biden, Gov. Nikki Haley and numerous dignitaries and church leaders.