Reverend Clementa Pinckney, Democratic state senator for South Carolina’s 45th district, was the first victim identified in the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church that left nine dead on Wednesday night. He was 41 years old.
Pinckney, who began preaching at the age of 13 and received his first appointment as a pastor at 18 according to the church’s website, was leading a prayer meeting at the church at the time of the shooting. The youngest African-American state legislator in the South Carolina history, Pickney had been a leader in the response to the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man, Walter Scott, by a white police officer in North Charleston. In his role as a state senator, he co-sponsored the bill recently signed by Governor Nikki Haley requiring officers to wear body cameras.
“He has sponsored progressive legislation, played a key role in us just getting body camera legislation passed,”Rev. Joseph Darby of Beaufort AME Church told MSNBC. “He was a very caring and competent pastor and he was a very brave man. And brave men sometimes die very difficult deaths.”
After being elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1996 at the age of 23, Pinckney made the jump to the state senate in 2001, and has served the 45th district for the last 14 years. He graduated magna cum laude from Allen University in 1995 and earned his Master’s degree in public administration from the University of South Carolina in 1999.
Pinckney became the pastor at Mother Emanuel AME Church—one of the nation’s oldest African-American congregations—in 2010, continuing a family legacy (four generations on his mother’s side had assumed the role at AME churches, according to The Post and Courier). Activism was also a family tradition: his great-grandfather, the Rev. Lorenzo Stevenson, sued the South Carolina Democratic Party to end whites-only primaries.
Pinckney is survived by his wife and two daughters.