Freedom, Liberty, Love and Grace

June 22, 2023

Oran P. Smith, Ph.D

Senior Fellow

Where were you on June 17, 2015?

The Americans of my parents’ generation always asked one another where they were on November 22, 1963. My mother always said that it was on her car radio that she heard the news that President Kennedy had been assassinated. She was driving her son (me) to Olan Mills to have my 9-month portrait taken.

For me, the indelible dates are September 11, 2001, and June 17, 2015.

It was on the evening of June 17, 2015 that nine South Carolinians of color were murdered at Mother Emanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston.

The event shook South Carolina and the world.

How could someone hate so much?

But it was the event only hours later that resonates across time. At the bond hearing for the shooter, Anthony Thompson rose to speak. Thompson’s wife Myra had been shot and killed by the young man who stood in front of him. Do you remember what Anthony Thompson said? It should be etched on our Palmetto State brains:

I forgive you, my family forgives you. Give your life to the one who matters the most: Christ. So that he can change it.

How could anyone love so much?

Earlier this week, we celebrated the freedom represented by Juneteenth. Next week, we celebrate Carolina Day (June 28) and its famous flag of liberty.

But it is Anthony Thompson’s enduring message of love, the kind of love that is possible only for one who sees with spiritual eyes, that brings all of these anniversaries together in a truly amazing grace.


Cynthia Hurd, 54

Susie Jackson, 87

Ethel Lance, 70

The Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49

The Honorable Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41

Tywanza Sanders, 26

The Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74

The Rev. Sharonda Singleton, 45

Myra Thompson, 59