Design for Charleston Attack Memorial Draws on Pain, Strength and Forgiveness

Curving, high-backed benches and a fountain are features of the proposed memorial at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., seen in an artist’s rendering.

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Three years after a racist blood bath in its fellowship hall — and 200 years after its defiant founding as one of the South’s first black congregations — Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., unveiled designs on Sunday for a contemplative memorial to the nine victims and five survivors of the horrific attack.

As envisioned by the architect Michael Arad, who also designed the National September 11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan, sections of the church’s parking lot would be transformed into two meditative spaces, one a stone memorial courtyard, the other a grassy survivors’ garden. Together they would speak to the suffering and resilience of a church that has outlasted two centuries of persecution through its practice of faith and forgiveness.

The focal point of the memorial is a pair of sleekly curving high-backed pews, carved of white marble, that would welcome visitors from Calhoun Street like outstretched arms. Some congregants have seen in them a pair of angels’ wings, or even the hull of a slave ship.

Mr. Arad, a New York-based partner with Handel Architects, said the plan was “intended to promote a sense of community, that when you walk into this space, you become a member of this congregation.”

At the center will be an ovate fountain whose waters wash over the inscribed names of the worshipers who were killed on June 17, 2015: the Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, the Rev. DePayne Middleton Doctor, Cynthia Hurd, Ethel Lee Lance, Susie Jackson, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, the Rev. Daniel Simmons and Myra Thompson.

The memorial would take the place of the asphalt lot where Dylann S. Roof, a 21-year-old white supremacist, parked his car before walking through an unsecured door to join a Bible study session in progress. He waited until the congregants closed their eyes in benediction, took a handgun out of a waist pack and began firing. When he was captured the next day, Mr. Roof confessed that his goal had been to incite a race war. He offered no defense at his trial in federal court and received a death sentence in January 2017, which he is appealing.

To make the memorial project a reality, a foundation connected to the church now must raise an estimated $15 million to $20 million, according to John Darby, a prominent local developer who is a co-chairman of the campaign along with Emanuel’s pastor, the Rev. Eric S.C. Manning. Those funds would pay for construction costs and for establishing an endowment for maintenance and security as well as educational programming, Mr. Darby said. A leadoff pledge of $1 million has been made by the Robert and Janice McNair Foundation. Mr. McNair, who attended the University of South Carolina, owns the Houston Texans.

Mr. Darby said he was optimistic that fund-raising would accelerate now that he has a design to show potential donors. But the Emanuel campaign may find itself competing with the final stages of fund-raising for a planned $75 million International African American Museum on Charleston’s waterfront, as well as with the church’s own efforts to raise several million dollars for badly needed repairs and renovations.

Since the shootings, which many church members refer to simply as “the tragedy,” Sunday attendance at Emanuel has been bolstered by a steady flow of visitors, black and white, who come to commune and pay their respects. But much of the core membership of Mother Emanuel, as the church is affectionately known, has been dislocated far from downtown by rapid gentrification in the city. That has created some fiscal challenges for the church, and Pastor Manning said he was determined not to let the memorial become a recurring burden.

“We will want to have the best possible support from the community, and dare we even say, the world,” he said. “This memorial will not just remind the congregation of what we have gone through but also remind the world that forgiveness is, of course, very important.”

Mr. Arad has made about a dozen trips to Charleston in the last year to study the Emanuel site and the city’s distinctive architecture. He has also consulted at length with the congregation’s leadership, the survivors and families of the victims. Consensus on the design was not immediate, but it came.

The planning of the Emanuel memorial coincides with a nationwide movement, inspired in part by the massacre, to rid public spaces of statues, monuments and names that honor the Confederacy. Mr. Roof’s association with Confederate symbols prompted South Carolina’s governor and Legislature to remove the Confederate battle flag from a pole on the state Capitol grounds in Columbia three years ago. That led to similar efforts across the country, toppling Robert E. Lee from his pedestal in New Orleans and rebranding schools named for his lieutenants.

In Charleston last month, the City Council formally apologized for slavery, a gesture with particular resonance in the port where nearly half of all captive Africans brought to the United States were disembarked. The resolution was sponsored by Councilman William D. Gregorie, an Emanuel member whose family has belonged to the church for generations.

Reflecting the city’s complex racial history, the memorial commemorating one of the country’s deadliest hate crimes will sit a block away from Marion Square, with its towering statue of John C. Calhoun, the antebellum vice president from South Carolina who was one of slavery’s most ardent defenders. Some Charlestonians have called for the statue’s removal.

Mr. Arad’s design was presented after morning services at the church on Sunday, capping a week of events to commemorate the congregation’s bicentennial. The church dates its founding to 1818, when free and enslaved blacks who had withdrawn from Charleston’s Methodist church over discriminatory worship practices affiliated with the recently formed African Methodist Episcopal denomination and became the first A.M.E. congregation in the South.

The church and its leaders were harassed relentlessly by the authorities, and their original wood-frame church building was destroyed in 1822 because of its role in incubating a failed slave insurrection. The accused plotters, many of them church members, were hanged.

The congregation reconstituted itself immediately after the Civil War, and named itself Emanuel — “God with us.” It remained a refuge and a center of resistance throughout Reconstruction, the Jim Crow era and the struggle for civil rights.

The survivors’ garden planned by Mr. Arad is surrounded by marble benches. One is for each of the three women and two children who escaped Mr. Roof’s rampage: Pastor Pinckney’s widow, Jennifer Benjamin Pinckney, and one of their daughters; Tywanza Sanders’s mother, Felicia Sanders, and her young granddaughter; and a longtime church stalwart, Polly Sheppard.

And there will be a sixth survivor’s bench. It represents Mother Emanuel herself.

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