Charleston pastor-politician Rev Clementa Pinckney mourned at state capitol

Mourners pay their respects at the casket of Senator Clementa Pinckney as he lies in state inside the rotunda of the State Capitol in Columbia, South Carolina.Reuters

The body of Rev Clementa Pinckney, the state senator and pastor gunned down with eight others at a historic black church in Charleston, was taken on Wednesday to the South Carolina capitol to lie in state inside the rotunda.

Pinckney's casket arrived on a horse-drawn carriage, passing by the hotly disputed Confederate battle flag flying on the State House grounds in Columbia. Eight state police officers in dress uniform served as pallbearers.

Governor Nikki Haley and other politicians came onto the State House steps to pay their respects to the 41-year-old Democrat, who had been widely admired for the way he blended politics with his faith.

The pastor-politician and eight other black men and women were slain during Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on June 17. Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white man, has been charged with the murders, which authorities have said were racially motivated.

President Barack Obama is to deliver the eulogy at Pinckney's funeral on Friday in Charleston. First lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are expected to attend.

The church attack came after months of intense debate over U.S. race relations after unarmed black men were killed by police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, New York City, Baltimore and elsewhere.

It also reignited debate over official display of the Civil War-era battle flag of the Confederacy, with calls for it to be removed from State House grounds and other public places.

Roof had posed with the flag in photos posted on a website.


A long line of mourners snaked from the State House onto the street in sweltering heat. Inside they were greeting by Pinckney's widow and two young daughters.

Mourners filed past the open casket, which was beside a statue of South Carolina politician John C. Calhoun, the seventh U.S. vice president and a defender of slavery.

On Tuesday, South Carolina lawmakers voted to open debate on removing the Confederate flag from the State House grounds as protesters gathered outside chanting "Take it down."

Four former South Carolina governors - three Democrats and a Republican - issued a joint statement on Wednesday supporting a call by current Governor Haley, a Republican, and other state politicians to remove the flag.

"We should fly only the United States and South Carolina flags on our State House grounds - flags that represent us all," they said.

One of the governors, Republican David Beasley, famously lost an election after pushing for the flag's removal in 1996.

On Wednesday, Alabama's governor ordered Confederate flags removed from state capitol grounds, his office said.

Pinckney, a fourth-generation pastor, began preaching at 13, and at 23 became the youngest African-American inSouth Carolina history to be elected to the state legislature. He was elected to the Senate in 2001 at age 27.

Pinckney was a passionate advocate of expanding the Medicaid healthcare funding program for the poor and was credited this year with pushing through a police body camera law after an unarmed black man was killed by a police officer in North Charleston.

"He was a giant," said state Senator Marlon Kimpson, a Democrat. "He was the moral conscience of the Senate.

"We turned to him oftentimes during a legislative impasse, and he would offer us his guidance but more importantly give us his spiritual and biblical perspective."