CHARLESTON - Designs for a memorial to nine black worshippers slain at a South Carolina church began not at a drafting table, but with questions from grieving family members to prospective architects. They didn’t want to see any drawings until they sat down with the eventual designer to discuss how best to honor loved ones lost in the racist attack at Emanuel AME Church.
The result of those conversations, the planners say, will be less of a solemn monument and more of a heavenly embrace to those visiting the historic Charleston church.
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Church officials unveiled detailed plans Sunday afternoon for the permanent tribute designed by the architect behind the 9/11 Memorial in New York. The announcement, coinciding with the 200th anniversary of the church known as “Mother Emanuel,” will be followed by a push to raise the money needed to build the memorial and prayer garden.
Church officials say the design conveys both solace and resiliency. A marble fountain with carvings of the victims’ names will be flanked by curved stone benches that rise above visitors’ heads and cradle the space “like sheltering wings,” according to a news release.
“When you walk into the memorial, it’s going to give you the feeling of being embraced, just embraced with warmth,” said City Councilman William Dudley Gregorie, a church trustee who lost a loved one in the June 2015 attack.
The nine worshippers were shot during Bible study by a man who said he intended to kill people at the historic church to stoke racial tensions. He’s been sentenced to death.
In honoring the victims, architect Michael Arad said the project also will pay homage to the church’s history as a living community, not just a geographic location.