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1 Year After Church Shooting, Compassion Carries Charleston Forward


This coming Friday will be one year since Dylann Roof opened fire at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. The white, 21-year-old man killed nine black church members during a Bible study class. Roof goes on trial for murder and other charges in November. Liz Alston has been the historian at the church for more than 40 years. She joins us now on the line. Ms. Alston, welcome to our program.

LIZ ALSTON: Thank you.

WERTHEIMER: Well, so, do you think that this event changed your church?

ALSTON: This event has changed our church. I think the words that we use now is the new normal.

WERTHEIMER: And what does that mean?

ALSTON: We have been placed on the international scene. The church has been - has become a pilgrimage. Every Sunday, we are blessed - that's the word - with the visitors from around the world, not out of curiosity, but people just want to come to the place so that they can give their thanks and to be a part of the church. They are persons who're just pleased just to come and stand outside. They say we don't have to come inside. We just want you to know we are with you. It has changed me as an individual. My mother used the word to describe me and I - one of them is curt - she said Sis, you're too curt. So now, I'm telling my church members that a word describes me is humility. And they say - well, not quite yet. So that's where I'm going.

WERTHEIMER: (Laughter) But you're headed in the direction of?

ALSTON: Yes. And when our church people said I forgive you. And then I realized it's in Our Father prayer. Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. Now Liz Alston is practicing what she has prayed all these years. So those words that I talked about - humility, forgiveness, all of the things that my mother taught me at her knee - are now coming to fruition.

WERTHEIMER: Wasn't it Ethel Lance, the mother of Nadine Collier - wasn't she the woman who said publicly that she forgave Dylann Roof for murdering her daughter? That was after he was arrested. So it was right away.

So do you think that there are other people - many people besides yourself and Mrs. Lance who've been sort of moving toward that?

ALSTON: Yeah, there are a lot of persons who believe it. There are also persons who believe that forgiveness is a process. So there are persons in various stages of the forgiveness process.

WERTHEIMER: I wonder if, horrible as this event was, it certainly has presented opportunities to you and to the people in the church to learn other things, to do many amazing things. I mean, you all were nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. There was a...

ALSTON: Got that right.

WERTHEIMER: Desmond Tutu invited the survivors to Africa as his guests.

ALSTON: Now, that's true.

All of these things are the outpourings of love and compassion to Emanuel. Yes, there have been so many aftershocks as a result of the massacre, which has to have been, from my Christian perspective, divine intervention.

WERTHEIMER: Liz Alston is the historian for the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. Thank you so very much for taking this time to talk to us.

ALSTON: It has been my pleasure. And all I can say - stay tuned, more to come. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.