We know these names: Clementa Pinckney, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel L. Simmons Sr., Myra Thompson. A week ago, they were alive.
A week ago, during the hour of the night in which they were studying the practice of peace and love, a young white man fueled with racist ideology and its historical narrative of hatred entered their church and shot them dead. This man carried more than a gun -- he carried in his mind a controversial symbol of the South: the Confederate flag.
This past week, flags have been lowered to half-staff. But not all of them. "Every flag over Charleston is at half-staff today -- except one." This is the first line of a new song, "Take Down Your Flag," by singer-songwriter Peter Mulvey. On tour with Ani DiFranco last week, he saw the news of the Emanuel A.M.E. Church massacre and decided to write a song. He wrote it Friday night in the basement dressing room of the Calvin Theatre in Northampton, Massachusetts, right before his set. Then he performed it. This isn't just any song. It's one with a mission.
In a Facebook post, Peter writes, "In Charleston, the United States Flag and the South Carolina state flag are at half-mast for nine days, for the nine victims. But the Confederate battle flag is flying at the top of its pole. News outlets are reporting that lowering it can only be done by a vote of the state legislature. I submit that lowering it can be done by two hands and human decency."
The song ends:
It will take all of the love in all of our hearts,
but it will also take something more.
Take down your flag to half-staff.
Take down your flag to half-staff.
Take down your flag to half-staff
And then take it down for good.
The Confederate flag has been flying high, a finger poking into a centuries-old open wound. Peter's song demands that the flag at least be lowered to half-staff this Wednesday, when the body of Reverend Clementa Pinckney will lie in state at the South Carolina Capitol. "The thing that I'd most like to see," he says, "is the Confederate flag at half-staff while Pinckney is lying in state underneath it. That would take just a small bit of the edge of the pain so many (including myself) are feeling." The song also gives tribute to and remembrance of the nine people lost in this horrendous attack.
Peter uploaded the original version of "Take Down Your Flag" to YouTube on Saturday. It includes a verse remembering Susie Jackson. Someone asked if he'd write verses for all nine who were killed; by that time, two musicians had already covered the song, and Peter asked if they'd re-write their own verses in remembrance. This started a domino effect of musicians covering, re-writing, recording, and uploading their own additions.
Ani DiFranco sings a verse for Tywanza Sanders, Anaïs Mitchell gives tribute to DePayne Middleton-Doctor, and Erin McKeown sings about Sharonda Coleman-Singleton. Pamela Means' lyrics include: "Clementa Pinckney worked tirelessly for justice, peace, and love." Vance Gilbert, speaking to the symbolism and historical residue of the Confederate flag, wrote a verse about alleged gunman Dylann Roof. Peter Mulvey most recently added a lyric for Reverend Pinckney: "Clementa Pinckney will lie in state on Wednesday afternoon. Please do not fly that flag over his body."
In a matter of days, "Take Down Your Flag" has become a living song. Peter has just uploaded a video containing the chords and framework in hopes that more people will continue to grow this song and commemorate those we've lost.
Musicians, please think about recording this song with a new verse and sharing it with the world. It's become a chain song of love, remembrance, and honor, and, most importantly, it's a call to action. In a time like this, the world needs songs like this.