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Clementa Pinckney, Charleston shooting victim, was called the legislature's conscience

Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

Clementa Pinckney, pastor of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, was among the nine people killed in a mass shooting at the Charleston church Wednesday night. The alleged killer has been arrested.

Pinckney, who was 41, wasn't only a religious leader — he was a charismatic state senator whom colleagues described as the moral conscience of South Carolina's legislature.

One of Pinckney's most characteristic features was his deep, booming voice. He started preaching when he was 13, became a pastor at 18, and was elected to the House of Representatives at 23, becoming the youngest African American elected to the South Carolina legislature. At the time, he represented District 122 — a largely rural district near the state's southern border.

When Pinckney was 25, Ebony magazine picked him out as one of 30 black leaders of the future, meant to recognize young people who were both succeeding professionally and giving back to the community:

Pinckney was featured in Ebony magazine when he was 25.


Two years later, at 27, he was elected to the state Senate.

He's being remembered today for one of his most recent legislative achievements, co-sponsoring a bill to require law enforcement officers to wear body cameras, which South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley signed into law last week.

The bill passed with bipartisan support in part due to Pinckney's advocacy, a fellow state senator told the State, Columbia, South Carolina's newspaper.

"It was his speech on the Senate floor about togetherness and belief that we can do better that brought the body-camera bill to passage and garnered largely bipartisan support," State Sen. Marlon Kimpson said, according to the State. "He was a moral leader of the Senate, and when he spoke, people listened."

Pinckney also introduced several bills related to campaign finance reform and pushed to expand the state's domestic violence laws to cover people in dating relationships. In 2013, he introduced a bill to require firearms dealers to conduct more expansive background checks for mental health issues.

In 1999, in an interview with the Savannah Morning News, Pinckney said he aspired to run for Congress some day, but that he didn't expect his political commitments to distract from his religious responsibilities.

"That [the ministry] is my first love," he said. "I see everything I do as an extension of the ministry. It's all about service. In the community, in the African-American community, one person ought to say something, and that is the minister. The minster is paid by the people. He doesn't work for a big company. He doesn't represent a particular special interest."

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