Pensacola and Escambia County church congregations, ministers, pastors, and area citizens held prayer vigils and candlelight ceremonies around the area in mourning for what is being called one of the worst hate crimes in decades. Bethel AME Church, Allen AME Chapel, and the Martin Luther King Memorial Plaza were the locations where the vigils were held. They mourned for the nine people that were massacred on Wednesday, June 17th at the historic black church, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The murdered victims, all black, included the church’s pastor and state senator, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, three other pastors, a recent college graduate, a librarian, a track and field coach, a church janitor and her cousin.
The Reverend Andrew Toms, the associate minister at Bethel AME located at 511 Woodland Drive, made several comments about the diversity of faiths and races represented at the vigil and the speed in which the event was organized. Toms stated that he was standing in for Bethel’s Pastor, Rev. Clifton Riley, who was out of town on business but consented immediately for his church to be the site for the somber occasion.
Allen Chapel AME located at 500 N. Guillemard Street in downtown Pensacola, also held a vigil and prayer service on Thursday evening following the murders. The Pastor, Rev. Freddie Nathan Tellis, gave a glowing description of the event at his church as very diverse with Southern Baptists, COGICs, Pentecostals, Muslims, and non-denominational Christians. According to Pastor Tellis, Dr. Barry Howard, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Pensacola on North Palafox, gave a stirring and impactful keynote presentation and an intercessory prayer at the vigil. Tellis added that several Catholic and Jewish visitors came to Allen Chapel on Sunday and said that they felt they had a need to worship in a local AME Church.
A candle lighting ceremony was held at Martin Luther King
Jr. Memorial Plaza on Friday, June 19th. This event was organized by local young professionals and community activists of the organization known as ‘From Pensacola’, that fought to have the Confederate Flag removed from government buildings in Pensacola. The organizers, Katrina Ramos, Haley Morrisette, Keyontay Humphries, and Clarissa Farrar invited local civil rights icon, Rev. H.K. Matthews of the National Movement of Civil and Human Rights, to speak in memory of those murdered at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. It was reported by those in attendance that this event had as many whites participating in the event as the number of blacks involved.