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Charleston victim funerals begin, as Confederate flag falls in other states

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CHARLESTON, S.C. — The body of Pastor Clementa Pinckney returns home Thursday evening, where his flock has been preaching love in the face of the hate crime that took his life and those of eight others.

The wake for the late reverend and state senator shot dead teaching a Bible class over a week ago will commence in the house of worship where he was shot — Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

And mourners in Charleston, S.C., will begin committing to the ground the remains of the people whom Dylann Roof, 21, killed in a racist shooting spree on June 17.

On Thursday, they say goodbye to Ethel Lance and Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton.

Before bullets struck Lance down at age 70, she was enjoying retirement after dedicating 34 years to the performing arts. She had worked backstage at Charleston’s Gaillard Auditorium, which hosted renowned touring stage acts.

Coleman-Singleton was a speech therapist and high school track coach. Her son Chris described her as “a God-fearing woman (who) loved everybody with all her heart.” If everyone loved the way she did, hate wouldn’t have a chance, he said.

‘The Power of Love’

On Wednesday, about 150 worshipers gathered to hear a lesson titled “The Power of Love” in the same basement room Roof drenched with blood. Interim Pastor Norvel Goff Sr. re-consecrated the ground. “This territory belongs to God,” he said.

As he spoke, people shouted back “hallelujah,” “yes sir,” “amen” and “come on.”

But the room was still scarred. Over worshipers’ heads, a ceiling tile was missing, others were brand new replacement. A bullet hole was taped over with a police ID number H-17.

“Bible study will continue,” Goff told the crowd, “but because of what happened, we will never be the same.”

“Last week,” Goff said, “dark powers came over Mother Emanuel,” as the church is lovingly called. “But, that’s alright. God in his infinite wisdom said ‘that’s alright. I’ve got the nine.’ ”

Armed officer keeps watch

An armed Charleston police officer kept watch over the meeting. The scent of fresh flowers lingered from an arrangement of white mums and other blossoms in the front of the room.

In the back, a banquet table overflowed with varied floral arrangements in tribute to those who died.

Dressed in all black, a string trio — two violins and a cello — played the songs “Simple Gifts” and “Be Thou My Vison.”

Goff spoke to Roof’s hatred. “We are better than that,” he said.

A week before, Roof had sat through the class for an hour with his victims before declaring he was there “to kill black people,” pulled out a pistol and opened fire.

He has admitted to the killings, and was charged with nine counts of murder. Additionally, the Department of Justice is likely to pursue federal hate crime charges against him, law enforcement officials told CNN.

Confederate flag

Some loved ones of Charleston’s massacre victims have — through tears and sobs — publicly forgiven Roof. And they have been met in return with a public outpouring of sympathy.

Leaders, including a chorus of conservatives, who in the past have defended the flying of the Confederate flag, have supported the call to have it removed from its site near South Carolina’s State House in Columbia.

Roof revered the flag as a symbol of white supremacy, and photos surfaced of him holding it, alongside another image of him burning an American flag. Many consider the Confederate flag a racist symbol.

Politicians in other states have taken swift and uncomplicated action to banish it.

On Wednesday, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley directed that four Confederate flags be taken down permanently from a Confederate memorial at the state capitol. The Mississippi state flag, which contains the battle flag as a prominent element, was taken down from Boise City Hall at the Mayor’s request.

The National Park Service announced that it’s discontinuing items bearing the flag in its souvenir shops. Walmart, eBay and Amazon have announced they would stop selling it, and an array of other corporate giants have supported its removal.

Presidential eulogy

South Carolina legislators are taking steps in the direction of removing the battle flag that flies at a Confederate memorial, but the process appears complicated and slow.

A law protecting it and other Civil War symbols requires a two-thirds supermajority vote in each chamber of the legislature to take it down. But critics say it could go much faster if lawmakers would just strike down that law with a simple majority vote.

While they still grappled with it, the Confederate flag flapped nearby on Wednesday as Sen. Pinckney’s body went on public view in the State House.

He will be buried on Friday. President Barack Obama will give his eulogy.