Plans for the Emanuel Nine Memorial Unveiled

The monument to the nine black parishioners slain in Charleston in 2015 will include two wing-like benches that arc around a marble fountain

Emanuel Memorial
Handel Architects

Three years after a self-identified white supremacist murdered nine black parishioners at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, plans for a memorial to the victims have been revealed.

As Camila Domonske at NPR reports, the new memorial will be built on the church grounds, mostly on areas currently occupied by parking lots. Michael Arad, a partner of Handel Architects, was selected to design the space.

The firm’s website details the proposal for the Emanuel Nine Memorial:

“The memorial features a courtyard with two fellowship benches, facing each other with high backs that arc up and around like sheltering wings. At the center of the courtyard, the curves of the benches encircle a marble fountain where the names of the Emanuel Nine are carved around the fountain’s edge. Water emanates from a cross-shaped source, filling the basin and gently spilling over the names of the nine. The opening between the benches toward the back of the courtyard reveals a cross above a simple altar, providing visitors a quiet place to linger in thought and prayer.”

The memorial will also include a survivors’ garden dedicated to “life and resiliency;” it will incorporate a bench and tree to represent each of the five individuals who escaped the mass shooting, as well as an additional bench to signify the survival of the church itself, the oldest black church still standing south of Baltimore.

According to Robert Behre of Charleston’s The Post and Courier, the memorial plan was unveiled Sunday, a capstone to the church’s week-long 200th anniversary celebration. Surprisingly, the memorial’s concept wasn’t chosen from a list of designs. Instead, the church decided to find its architect first, asking candidates to submit essays on forgiveness and their philosophy on design. “I think that was very wise,” says Arad, who was a lead architect for the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York. “For me to suggest what should be built here without any knowledge of who is involved and what their feelings are and what their hopes and aspirations are would be beyond presumptuous.”

Arad worked with the families of those being memorialized, the church and local officials to create his concept. “The design is sort of very much in the world of landscape architecture more so than sculpture or architecture,” Arad says. “All the design cues came from growing to appreciate the vernacular architecture of Charleston — the fig ivy-covered walls, the brick walls, the crape myrtles, the live oaks, the lawns.”

A timeline for the construction of the memorial is not yet available, though current projections do not anticipate it being ready by the mass shooting’s five year marker in 2020. In fact, Kevin Sack at The New York Times reports that the Emanuel AME Church still needs to raise upward of $15 million to construct the monument, buy a small piece of adjacent land, and ensure the memorial’s future maintenance. So far the church has received a $1 million donation, but they anticipate that fundraising will increase now that there’s a physical design concept.

The memorial, it’s hoped, will complement the $75 million International African American Museum constructed nearby on the city’s waterfront, itself slated to open in 2020.

The museum and memorial are part of big changes happening in Charleston since the slayings. Before the Civil War, the city was the capital of the slave trade in the United States. Just last month, the city council approved a resolution apologizing for the city’s role in the trade. The city, however, has resisted calls to remove statues commemorating Confederate soldiers and politicians, opting instead to add new plaques and markers to the works to give them additional historical context. In particular, a large statue of Vice President John C. Calhoun, a supporter of slavery whose writings helped shape the ideas of the future Confederacy remains at the center of the ongoing debate.

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