Friday, August 7, 2015

The Nine

This summer was pretty traumatic for Heidi and me...  and for many in South Carolina.  Of course I am referring to the Charleston Nine.  It took me a while to write about it.  And when I did it was scrawled in my writer's notebook, on napkins, in church bulletins.  We went to church services, went to the Rally to Take Down the Confederate Flag.  Heidi and her grad students walked from campus to watch as the Confederate flag was lowered from the State House.  We read and reread accounts in the paper, op-ed pieces, letters to the editor.

I don't care about Dylan Roof (who agreed to plead guilty if he could be assured of not getting the death penalty).  I do care that he got a gun so easily.  I care that this wasn't just an isolated case of one mentally ill person who raged against another race.  Sadly he is a symbol of something much greater.  Racism exists and has existed since white people came to this continent.  This will not end it - even with the Confederate flag coming down.  Some people are obviously angry about it.  One over-the-top Ku Klux Klan woman ranted something about, "Well if they can take our flag down, we should TAKE DOWN THEIRS!" (?)

There have been churches and conservative pundits who don't want to admit that there are race issues in our country that, "This isn't a race problem.  It's a SIN problem!"

No, it is a race problem.  I'd like to think that the killer of the Charleston 9 was a single deranged mind who accidentally got a gun that he wasn't supposed to by law.  But to me, the killer is a symbol of a hatred that has existed for centuries.  Anyone who thinks that we are beyond race issues is blind.

At first I OVER-wrote this song. It was about 9 minutes long, then 7 1/2 minutes long (after leaving out many of the emotions and thoughts I had about it).   With some coaching from Heidi I got it down to about 5 minutes.  Still too long maybe.  But I can't say/sing all that I feel in fewer words.

Thanks to my friend James Woods for inspiring me to get off my reading butt and get into writing again.  Some day I'll get on Sound Cloud or get a recording on Youtube.  For now here are the lyrics.

The Nine – Tim O’Keefe 7-15

Charleston in the month of June                        Am C
At Mother Emmanuel                                        G Am
Good people met to share their prayers
But one man came to kill

They invited him to share their time                     F C
To pray, to learn, to teach                                    G Am
They welcomed him with open arms
But his heart was out of reach

Maybe some good will happen                        Am C
Maybe some kind of spark                               G Am
Maybe we’ll move a little closer to the light 
Maybe come in from the dark
Maybe we’ll seek some honest answers            F C
That would be so fine                                       G Am
Maybe we’ll speak some truth to power
We owe so much to The Nine                            E* Am

He shot and killed those precious ones
To start some kind of war
He thought his hate would conquer their love
But he’ll get no reward

‘Cause when the families of the victims spoke
Their strength came from their faith
Forgiveness was the message they shared,
“There’s no room in my heart to hate.”                        

Maybe some good will happen                        Am C
Maybe some kind of spark                               G Am
Maybe we’ll move a little closer to the light 
Maybe come in from the dark
Maybe we’ll seek some honest answers            F C
That would be so fine                                      G Am
Maybe we’ll speak some truth to power
We owe so much to The Nine                           E* Am

It was no trouble for that young man
To get himself a gun
Like chains and whips and ropes of old
He carried a Glock .41

They prayed and talked that mid June night
A young stranger in their midst
Singing those old Halleluiah songs
They couldn’t know what to expect                       

We met this evil man before                                         F C F C G
His face was there on Africa’s shore                            Am F C G
In the Dark Middle Passage and Hate’s awful course  Am F C G
We’re familiar with his terrible face
His gun and his rope and his hanging place
His Jim Crow laws, his higher race
We know this wretched man all right
His tired flag, his speeches trite
His endless battle against Civil Rights
His chains, his whip, his hate, his gun
He’s been in this land since we’ve begun
Now let us pray that his time is done

Along with the Birmingham girls
Mississippi and young Emmett Till
The Freedom Riders back in ‘61
We remember their stories well

“Come Ye That Love The Lord,” they sang
And, “We are marching to beautiful Zion”
We sing their songs, we raise our voices
To the memory of The Nine