South Carolina welcomes you to Charleston for the funeral of Rev. Senator Clementa Pinckney. The occasion of your visit is painful to all South Carolinians and having the honor of the presence of the President of the United States is appreciated. Your recognition of the service and glorious faith of Rev/Sen Pinckney and the other victims of such an unspeakable act of evil is, no doubt, comforting to the families.
However, Mr. President, you have a reputation for using events, tragic ones, to forward political policy. With that as a consideration and with no disrespect intended, as a visitor to the Palmetto State, please be deferential to all South Carolinians by honoring a few very simple points of etiquette.
In your remarks, please do not feel compelled to give us lessons in civil rights. Despite a painful history in which our ancestors made unfortunate choices, understand that we get it. We are dealing with the issues and problems of race relations and have done remarkably well. South Carolina schools are rated number one in the nation for teaching the history of civil rights in the classroom. A minority woman is our Governor and Senator Tim Scott is one of only two African-American United States Senators and the only one from the South. Further, I doubt you are aware that the South Carolina state motto is “Dum Spiro Spero” – “While I breathe, I hope.” We have not stopped trying to improve our relationships. We have not stopped breathing, so we continue to hope for ever better times.
Please do not lecture us about the Confederate flag. Don’t stereotype us as your political cronies and Hollywood sycophants like to do. We may not be like your friends in the Hamptons or Beverly Hills, but we’re certainly not a population of tabacky chewin’, inbred rednecks either. Most of us who treasure our heritage do not invest it all in a simple flag. In fact, the majority don’t want the Stars and Bars on the State House grounds. In other words, it is not an issue. Don’t make it one.
It has been your practice, Mr. President, to use tragedies such as the murders at Emanuel AME to further a more strict set of gun control legislation. Just as we are not defined by the Confederate flag, nor are we identified by our recognition of the Second Amendment. Please do not take the podium at such a somber and painful event and speak of the need to restrict the rights given us by that amendment. Taking such liberties are beneath the office of the President and have no place at a funeral. If you want to expound on the issue when you return to Washington, that is appropriate, but in Charleston while mourning the loss of nine wonderful people, leave it alone.
Yes, Mr. President, we are those people you so derisively spoke of as “clinging to guns and religion,” and we are very proud of that. So, please do not preach to us. South Carolina has many, many great people of faith who can speak to our hearts and counsel our souls far better and, honestly, sir, with superior credentials. You see, Mr. President, when we – when the world – heard the soft and beautiful acts of forgiveness expressed by the victims’ families, the words may have come from men and women, but what we really heard was the voice of God. No one can improve on that.
Maybe, Mr. President, you have been surprised that South Carolinians of all colors and faiths have wrapped our arms around the black church community of Mother Emanuel. Those folks are our own and, though we could not save their kin, we will protect, pray for and love the suffering families and congregation of Mother Emanuel. We will cling to them. This, sir, is 21st Century South Carolina.
The nation will watch what you do and say. Please, sir, this is not your moment. It belongs to the victims and to their families. As the President of the United States, we expect – insist – you remember that.
May God bless you.