The connections across time of the physical space of the old Mt. Zion church where the South Carolina Black Convention was held in 1865 and the modern A.M.E. churches at Mother Emanuel and Mt. Zion in Charleston that I discussed in my prior post have led me to think about how the voices from that convention 150 years ago still speak to us. I previously quoted from the convention documents, but after the shooting at Mother Emanuel I re-read the document and was struck by the following:
“. . . we have been deprived of our natural rights, which are founded in the laws of our nature, which consist of personal liberty, the right to be free in our persons, and the right of personal security and protection against injuries to our bodies or good name.”
What would the participants that week in 1865 meeting in Mt. Zion have thought about the June 18th killings? How frustrated would they have been that security from racial violence remains, 150 year later, so fragile and elusive even in the very congregation that some of the leaders and members attended? If those authors were correct (and surely they were) that the “right of personal security and protection” is essential to liberty and equality, then the promise of the Fourteenth Amendment remains a promise unfulfilled. It is unfulfilled when police departments fail to protect African-American and other communities of color from violence; it is unfulfilled when police officers wrongly perceive black men and women as "threats" and needlessly resort to violence; it is unfulfilled when victims of domestic violence cannot depend on state agencies to protect them from abusers; it is unfulfilled when a culture of violence clothes itself in rights only to perpetuate itself on the innocent.