Earlier this week, architect Michael Arad revealed design plans for a permanent memorial honoring the victims of the Emanuel Nine tragedy. Arad, the architect behind the National September 11 Memorial in New York, conveyed his inspiration for the Emanuel Nine Memorial at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church following a ceremony celebrating the church’s 200th anniversary.
“The design reminds me of so many different things. It reminds me sometimes of a ship for enslaved people who were going to freedom. Sometimes it reminds me of the wings of angels. Sometimes it reminds me just of the arms of God,” says William Dudley Gregorie, Charleston City Council and Mother Emanuel A.M.E. church member.
“The inspiration for this memorial draws on Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church as a historic place and as a congregation,” reveals Michael Arad. “Throughout its 200-year history, it has endured slavery, discrimination and racism. When worship and assembly were banned, the church resisted and provided a place of fellowship and sanctuary. The Emanuel Nine tragedy marks another dark moment for the church, though faith helped to heal and bring light into the darkness.”
The memorial honors the nine victims and five survivors of the June 17, 2015 tragedy, the largest racially motivated mass murder in recent American history. Located on church grounds, the memorial features a courtyard with two fellowship benches, facing each other with high backs that arc up and around like sheltering wings.
At the center of the courtyard, the curves of the benches encircle a marble fountain where the names of the Emanuel Nine are carved around the fountain’s edge. Water emanates from a cross-shaped source, filling the basin and gently spilling over the names of the nine. The opening between the benches toward the back of the courtyard reveals a cross above a simple altar, providing visitors a quiet place to linger in thought and prayer.
“The incredible response from the families, church and the community has already altered the conversation about racism,” states John Darby, CEO of The Beach Company and co-chair of the memorial’s executive committee. “They put faith and love above hatred, and the message inspired people across the globe.”
“This memorial will honor the Emanuel Nine and celebrate the grace in forgiveness from the victims’ families, spirit of resiliency shown by the survivors, church members, the community of Charleston and the world by coming together as one,” says Reverend Eric S.C. Manning, pastor of Mother Emanuel A.M.E Church. “Ultimately it will inspire people and communities everywhere to rise above racism and overcome hate with love.”