Wednesday night's massacre was just the latest tragedy for one of the most historic black churches in America—and members of Charleston's Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church say they will once again emerge stronger, CNN reports. The first AME church in the South was founded in 1816, and historian Edward Ball tells the New York Times that it remains hugely important to black Southerners. "This church is much more than a place where people sing gospel," he says. "It's tethered to the deep unconscious of the black community." In its early days, the church's ministers faced arrest for violating laws on black people gathering without white supervision, CNN reports, and it was burned in 1822 after one of its founders, Denmark Vesey, plotted a slave revolt.
Members were forced underground for decades when all-black churches were outlawed, the church's history page says. It adopted the name Emanuel after the Civil War, and it had to rebuild once again when the church building was destroyed by an earthquake in 1886. In the 1960s, it was a center of the civil rights movement, hosting leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. President Obama, who knew murdered pastor Clementa Pinckney, paid tribute to the church's history in an address yesterday, the Post and Courier reports. "Mother Emanuel Church and its congregation have risen before—from flames, from an earthquake, from other dark times—to give hope to generations of Charlestonians," he said.