US

Slayings at black church dredge up memories of Charleston's dark, complicated racial past

  • A woman who gave her name as Sista Solove holds a sign outside the bond hearing for the suspected gunman in the shooting Wednesday that left nine people dead at Emanuel AME Church, Friday, June 19, 2015, in North Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

    A woman who gave her name as Sista Solove holds a sign outside the bond hearing for the suspected gunman in the shooting Wednesday that left nine people dead at Emanuel AME Church, Friday, June 19, 2015, in North Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)  (The Associated Press)

  • Sisters Kerry Johnson, foreground and Noel Goldman kneel in prayer at the memorial in front of the Emanuel AME Church, Friday, June 19, 2015, Charleston, S.C. The church was the scene of a shooting Wednesday night where Dylann Roof killed nine people including state representative Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, who was the pastor of the church. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

    Sisters Kerry Johnson, foreground and Noel Goldman kneel in prayer at the memorial in front of the Emanuel AME Church, Friday, June 19, 2015, Charleston, S.C. The church was the scene of a shooting Wednesday night where Dylann Roof killed nine people including state representative Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, who was the pastor of the church. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)  (The Associated Press)

With a dark past and complicated present, race relations have always been a challenge in Charleston.

It is here where police say nine people were slain at a historic black church on Wednesday night.

Charleston was once a major slave port and site of the first shots in the Civil War. A century later, it also served as a hub for civil rights activists who frequently gathered at the church, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal.

Progress in recent decades has included the rise of the black middle class, but pockets of poverty still exist and gentrification has pushed some black residents out as newcomers flock to trendy neighborhoods.

Bobby Donaldson is a historian at the University of South Carolina. He says the city projects a cosmopolitan image that belies problems.