CHARLESTON, S.C. — Lines of mourners began forming at the crack of dawn at TD Arena at the College of Charleston, not far from the Emanuel AME Church, where the Rev. and South Carolina Sen. Clementa Pinckney and eight others were gunned down last week.
Many came out in their Sunday church clothes to sit and reflect on the life of Pinckney, who represented the area from Charleston to Jasper County, just across the Savannah River from Georgia.
Pinckney was first elected to the South Carolina House in 1996 and to the state Senate in 2000.
By 11 a.m. Friday, there was not an empty seat in the arena, and the mourners clapped and swayed to gospel music.
President Barack Obama gave the eulogy in the afternoon. First lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner, as well as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, attended Pinckney’s funeral service.
Also attending were South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and the Revs. Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton.
The nearly four-hour service was led by the Rev. Dr. Novel Goff Sr., a presiding elder in South Carolina’s 7th District AME Church, who led the nation in prayer June 21, when the doors to Emanuel AME Church reopened.
The service was filled with music and traditional gospel songs by the Emanuel church choir, sending many to their feet, swaying to the rhythm.
The hours were filled with remembrances of Pinckney by fellow clergy, friends and family members as his wife, Jennifer Pinckney, and daughters Eliana and Malana listened not far from his casket, which was placed in front just under the podium.
Obama gave a moving eulogy to Pinckney, even though he admitted he did not know him well.
The president spoke for slightly more than 30 minutes. He said Pinckney lived by faith, often fighting an uphill battle in trying to get his constituents in South Carolina’s Lowcountry — “a place still racked by poverty and inadequate schools, a place where children can still go hungry and the sick can go without treatment — a place that needed somebody like Clem,” Obama said — more resources.
“His position in the minority party meant the odds of winning more resources for his constituents were often long,” Obama said. “His calls for greater equity were too-often unheeded. The votes he cast were sometimes lonely.”
Toward the end of his remarks, Obama spontaneously started singing “Amazing Grace,” much to the delight of those attending, who quickly joined in.