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Hundreds of mourners paid their respects on Thursday to the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of nine people gunned down in a suspected racially motivated attack on a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, last week.
Pinckney was shot to death along with eight others when alleged gunman Dylann Roof opened fire at a Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, one of the oldest and most influential African-American churches in the U.S., on June 17.
"Here in Charleston, South Carolina, one man tried — and failed — to bring about turmoil and strife to divide the people," Mark Tillman, general president of the fraternity to which Pinckney belonged for more than 20 years, Alpha Phi Alpha, told mourners.
"But what he has done is brought us together," Tillman said, to applause.
Pinckney was pastor at Emanuel AME and began preaching in the church in his teens. The 41-year-old married father of two also served in the South Carolina Senate and was at one time the youngest member of the state House when he was first elected at 23 in 1996.
Pinckney was named pastor at the church, popularly referred to as Mother Emanuel, in 2010. A microphone was placed in Pinckney’s hand as the body lay in an open casket at the church Thursday.
The shocking murders inspired calls throughout the South to remove the Confederate flag from government property. Major retailers have stopped selling merchandise featuring the flag. Roof is seen in an online post purported to be written by him holding the Confederate flag.
"Words cannot express what we all must be feeling — but we know God has a plan," Tillman said. "In just seven days, Brother Pinckney and our eight brothers and sisters became vessels for change in this country."
President Barack Obama is to give the eulogy at Pinckney’s funeral on Friday. First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will also attend the funeral. Former secretary of state and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton will also attend.
By the time services were scheduled to end at around 8 p.m. Thursday, a line of people wishing to pay their respects to Pinckney wrapped around Emanuel AME Church. The church said it would stay open “as long as it takes."
Earlier Thursday, funerals were held for two other victims in the attack, Ethel Lance, a 70-year-old church custodian, and Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, a minister and high school track coach.