It’s off the front page of the newspapers. There are no packs of reporters prowling the streets. The banks of television cameras across from the church are all gone. The politicians and celebrities have all gone home.
But the story of the Emanuel Nine is far from over; it is simply beginning the next chapter.
In the last four months, much has happened. Some of these changes, especially those related to the Confederate flag, would have been unimaginable just a few short months ago.
For all intents and purposes, the Confederate flag has been banished not just from South Carolina and across the South but nationwide. The flag came down on the state house grounds in Columbia and Alabama and Mississippi followed. Wal-Mart, eBay and most of corporate America instantly stopped selling flag-related items. A cultural icon of the Old Racist South has all but disappeared.
In Charleston, there have been changes, too — some physical, some psychic and some personal.
The church itself is no longer adorned with the outward signs of the massive outpouring of grief of those who visited. The countless array of flowers, letters, signs and remembrances have all been removed. Many of the tens of thousands of items are in storage and others have gone to the city and state history archives.
The name of the section of Calhoun Street in front of the church has been changed to Mother Emanuel Way Memorial District. It is indeed ironic that (John C.) Calhoun Street gives way to Mother Emanuel Way which leads into Liberty Square (which commemorates those who have struggled for liberty) and the future site of the International African-American History Museum.
The memorial funds of several million dollars that has been donated has started to be allocated and ongoing memorial projects are being planned. The city of Charleston’s Hope Fund alone was $2.5 million that came from more than 6,500 donors in all 50 states and overseas.
Over coffee and at lunches, many of the city’s writers, filmmakers and artists are meeting and buzzing about their “Emanuel project.” All of these projects are different and all are an ever-changing mix of sincerity, creativity and hopes of financial success and talk-show stardom.
Emanuel church members, civic leaders and just ordinary citizens are beginning to talk about “a memorial.” No one knows what it should be, what it should look like or even where it should be located. There are lots of diverse ideas but all are in agreement that we should “do something” and it should be very special.
In short, we are moving from the Emanuel Nine as an event to the beginning of creating The Shrine. And like any other shrine the world over, in time it will take on a life and meaning of its own.
Most assuredly, the story and ethos of The Shrine will reflect a different reality from what the tragedy was to those of us in Charleston as we knew, we felt and we lived it.
But that is all right, because the tragedy of the Emanuel Nine was not just our own private tragedy of those of us who live here and knew the victims. No, it is a larger tragedy linked with all those other global tragedies of senseless killing, racial hatred and universal pain. Many of these tragedies have their shrines too — as well it should be.
Such it is with history.
It would be wrong to say that life in Charleston is returning to normal — like it was pre-Emanuel. The Emanuel Nine has permanently changed Charleston and South Carolina. What we don’t know is how.
This city has seen many momentous events — the fall of Charleston to the British in the Revolution, Denmark Vesey’s slave rebellion, the start of the Civil War at Fort Sumter, Hurricane Hugo and countless other hurricanes and fires, and now the Emanuel Nine. Each of these events has left its own mark on the history, soul and psyche of this city and its people.
But this, too, will change over time. Our personal and collective perspective on these events has already changed and will continue to change in the months and years to come.
We don’t know how it will all end, and in fact, there will never be a final resolution. The memory of Emanuel lives and will continue to be a part of our life. Emanuel is simply moving into the next phase as it becomes part of the fabric of our history and continues to shape the contours of our soul.
With Emanuel, as with William Faulkner’s famous description of the South, “The past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past.”
Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and president of the S.C. New Democrats, an independent reform group found by former Gov. Richard Riley. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.