President Barack Obama delivered the eulogy on Friday at a memorial service for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the South Carolina State Senator who was killed along with nine others in the racially motivated Charleston church shooting on June 17.
"The Nation shares your grief," Obama said to the crowd of over 5,000 people, including relatives and friends of the victims, at the ceremony held today at the College of Charleston. "Preacher by 13, pastor by 18, public servant by 23 — what a life Clementa Pinckney lived!"
This was President Obama's first visit to Charleston since 21-year-old Dylann Roof open fired during an evening Bible study at the historic Emanuel AME church on June 17. The president traveled to South Carolina on Friday with Vice President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House John Boehner, along with a delegation from congress.
"Roof drew on a long history of bombs, and arson, and shots fired at churches—not random but as a means of control, a way to terrorize and oppress," the president said during the eulogy.
In the days following the shooting, the Justice Department determined that the shooting met the legal requirements for a hate crime.
The attack on the church instigated a renewed national debate about race and the legacy of the Confederate flag, after pictures of the alleged killer draped in the flag circulated online.
"For too long we have been blind to the way past injustices continue to shape the present," Obama said. He praised South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley for her recent speech calling for the flag's removal from a memorial near the state capital.
"A flag did not cause these murders," Obama said. "But that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial segregation."
"Removing the flag from this state's capital, would not be an act of political correctness, or an insult to the valor of confederate soldiers but simply an acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought—the cause of slavery—was wrong," he said. Towards the end of his speech, the president led the audience in a rendition of "Amazing Grace."