COLUMBIA, S.C. – Clementa Pinckney, among those killed in the Charleston church where he was the beloved pastor, was also a state senator lauded Thursday as "the best of the 46 of us in this chamber" as colleagues gathered in tribute near his black-draped desk in the state Capitol.
A 19-year state legislator, Pinckney was among nine victims Wednesday of a shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, one of the country's oldest black churches. He was 41. He is survived by his wife, Jennifer, and two children, Eliana and Malana.
"What stood out more than his big frame and booming voice was his astronomical heart he had for his fellow man," said Senate Minority Leader Nikki Setzler.
Just one year after graduating from Allen University in 1995, Pinckney became, at 23, the youngest African-American elected to the South Carolina Legislature. In 2000, he was elected to the state Senate.
He earned his masters of public administration from the University of South Carolina in 1999 and studied at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary.
A native of Beaufort, Pinckney began preaching at the age of 13 and was first appointed pastor at 18. He was named pastor of Mother Emanuel AME Church in 2010, according to the state Democratic Party.
"He had a core not many of us have," said Sen. Vincent Sheheen, who sat beside him in Senate chambers. "I think of the irony that the most gentle of the 46 of us — the best of the 46 of us in this chamber — is the one who lost his life."
Senators walked into chambers together Thursday and gathered at the podium for a prayer. A vase of flowers sat on a black cloth draping Pinckney's desk.
Senators watched a video of Pinckney speaking at the podium after a former North Charleston police officer was charged with murder for fatally shooting an unarmed black man. Pinckney pushed for legislation helping law enforcement agencies statewide get body cameras. Setzler called Pinckney's April 14 speech "probably his finest moment in the South Carolina Senate."