Three years ago, nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church—also known as Mother Emanuel—in Charleston, S.C were murdered by a white supremacist in the deadliest mass shooting in a house of worship since 1991, according to The Washington Post. Earlier this month, as part of a 200th anniversary celebration of the congregation, the community also remembered the “Emanuel Nine” with the unveiling of memorial design plans by architect Michael Arad, AIA, of Handel Architects to honor the victims.

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“Throughout its 200-year history, [the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church] has endured slavery, discrimination and racism,” Arad says in a statement shared by the firm. “When worship and assembly were banned, the church resisted and provided a place of fellowship and sanctuary. The Emanuel Nine tragedy marks another dark moment for the church, though faith helped to heal and bring light into the darkness."

Before beginning work on the plans, Arad, who also designed the National September 11 Memorial in New York, first had to submit an essay on forgiveness and how it would be reflected in his design to a committee spearheading the memorial project, according to The Post and Courier. “I think that was very wise," Arad told the paper. "For me to suggest what should be built here without any knowledge of who is involved and what their feelings are and what their hopes and aspirations are would be beyond presumptuous.”

Hoping to reflect resilience and fraternity, the memorial will feature a courtyard flanked by two pew-like, curved benches with high, arching backs that will form an ellipse around a central marble fountain engraved with the victims’ names.

Left to Right: John Darby (The Beach Company), Rev. Eric SC Manning (Emanuel AME Church), Michael Arad (Handel Architects) in front of Emanuel AME Church, Charleston, South Carolina
The Beach Company Left to Right: John Darby (The Beach Company), Rev. Eric SC Manning (Emanuel AME Church), Michael Arad (Handel Architects) in front of Emanuel AME Church, Charleston, South Carolina

The design also calls for creating a new landscaped churchyard called the Survivors’ Garden, which will sit on the opposite side of the church. Five trees and six stone benches encircling the garden will represent the five survivors of the attack, with a sixth bench representing the church.

"The design reminds me of so many different things," said Charleston City councilman and church member Dudley Gregorie in the statement. "It reminds me sometimes of a ship for enslaved people who were going to freedom. Sometimes it reminds me of the wings of angels. Sometimes it reminds me just of the arms of God."

Estimates put the cost for construction at $15 million. The church has set up the Mother Emanuel Memorial Foundation Board, a nonprofit dedicated to fundraising for the construction, endowment, and outreach for the memorial.

Courtesy Handel Architects
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Visit ARCHITECT's Project Gallery for more information about Emanuel Nine Memorial.

This story has been updated since first publication to reflect the specific location of the Survivors' Garden. Arad was asked to submit an essay to the memorial committee, not the Charleston City Council. Memorial representatives clarified that the design calls for the creation of a new church yard. ARCHITECT regrets the error.