- Introduction to the Special Forum on the Charleston Massacre of 2015
Nine African American church-goers were massacred in the basement of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (Mother Emanuel) in Charleston, South Carolina, on June 17, 2015. This act of racial violence extended and deepened a national debate over the ongoing effects of racial violence on the social fabric of the United States. Rage and anguish over the tragedy abound, as the local community, writers, bloggers, scholars, activists and countless others share insights on how and why such a thing could happen in 2015, and how such tragedy might catalyze positive social change. One relatively immediate response was the revival of political debate over the display of the Confederate battle flag, and its subsequent removal from the grounds of the South Carolina State Capitol (not once but twice, see Eaves, below). These predominantly symbolic events have the potential to distract public debate from the deep-seated problem of enduring racial bias in American society, but also warrant careful consideration in their own right.
New to the helm of Southeastern Geographer, we asked ourselves, what can geographers do to shed light on the massacre and its aftermath? What tools do geographers have with which to ‘make sense’ of such murderous expression of white supremacy? What do geographers have to say about the many possible aftermaths of this tragedy, some enacted, some in progress, others only imagined to date?
With this Special Forum in Southeastern Geographer, our intent is to create a(nother) space within academic geographic circles for the important and difficult conversations that are essential to racial understanding and reconciliation. Conversations such as these will not be without missteps, but it is crucially important to continue and deepen geographers’ critical engagement with the racial violence on which the United States was founded and continues to operate. In that spirit, we invited seven geographers at six universities to share their own reactions to and reflections on the Charleston Massacre in a special forum in this issue of Southeastern Geographer.
Each of the essays in the Special Forum suggests, either explicitly or implicitly, that it is unproductive to view the carnage in Mother Emanuel as an aberration; indeed none comment on the mental state of the [End Page 6] perpetrator. As historian Heather Richardson noted in an essay for “We’re History,”
That a white terrorist murdered an African American politician and African American bystanders in a black church, using language straight out of Reconstruction, is not an accident. It reflects the vital intersection of American politics, race, and religion since 1866.
Implicitly starting from the same premise, the geographers contributing to this forum consider the intersection of American politics, race, and religion, with attention to past, present and future transformations of symbolic, economic and cultural landscapes.
These essays draw on different positionalities and bodies of thought to reflect on tensions between memory, erasure, and transformation—of places of worship, of the cultural and economic landscapes in which they figure, and of the basis of U.S. society in racial violence.
Derek Alderman and Joshua Inwood argue for the need to develop relational understandings of the past and the ways in which it shapes the present. The removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds of the South Carolina State Capitol is an important step, they argue, but one that should be encompassed within a long and difficult process of ‘memory work’ that comes to terms with racial violence and its vestiges in the landscape.
The next three essays consider the spatial and spiritual geographies of different theological perspectives on racial difference and reconciliation, each in their own way highlighting the central role of religion in the events under consideration.
Priscilla McCutcheon invokes spiritual geographies and transformative landscapes to reflect on the significance of Black Church(es) as spaces of uplift that are simultaneously targets of violence. Drawing on a rich array of writers and thinkers, she offers an avowal of black liberation theory as a pivot of radical social change.
LaToya Eaves also engages with the potential of transformative landscapes (although without using that term as such), in a reflection on queering redemption. She draws on Black liberation...