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Emanuel AME Church Donates Thousands of Condolence Letters to SC Historical Society

This entry was posted on Friday, October 25th, 2019

Charleston’s historic Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church has donated thousands of condolence letters to The South Carolina Historical Society (SCHS).

“Easily thousands of letters,” said Celeste Wiley, Visual Materials Archivist for SCHS. “Just in sorting box we had materials from 47 states and multiple countries.”

Most of those letters were mailed to the church in the months after the 2015 tragedy that took nine lives. They’ve been sitting in the church, who now hopes SCHS can organize and catalog them.

“It’s hard to get through them and put them in some intellectual order while dealing with the emotional aspect of all of the letters,” Wiley said. She’s one of a team of around 15 people reading through the letters, but she says the process is personal.

“I knew Cynthia Hurd as a colleague and mentor,” she said. Hurd was one of the nine victims of the 2015 shooting. “The condolence, in particular, that are directed at her…there’s still a lot of pain for me.”

“All of us have cried at some point,” added Virginia Ellison, Director of Archives and Research for SCHS. “They’re an outpouring of love internationally. Different denominations, different organizations, different churches.”

“I don’t believe the families have read any of those,” said Reverend Eric Manning of Emanuel Church. “When they need a source of inspiration, when they need to know that their loved ones were remembered and it matters, they will be able to find solace there.”

He says the church simply didn’t have the means to read through and process the letters.

“We are not equipped to properly display them,” he said. “It’s important for the community to see that love is stronger than hate.”

Drawings from children and poems are also now among the 50 boxes of materials stored in SCHS’s archives.

“It’s raw evidence of an event that happened here in Charleston,” Ellison said. She adds she actually came across a letter written by someone she knew.

“I think it is incredibly important in documenting this moment in time,” Wiley added.

The letters will be available to view by appointment only at the College of Charleston’s Addlestone Library—home to the College’s Special Collections and SCHS—once they’ve been processed.

This article originally appeared on ABC News 4 on Oct. 24, 2019.