Ethel Lee Lance, a 70-year-old church sexton with five children, seven grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren, died June 17, 2015, in the mass shooting in Charleston.
he massacre of nine people on June 17 at the historic Emanuel A.M.E. church in Charleston, South Carolina, is a tragedy of national proportions. I feel strongly that this is a time for all Americans to act in whatever way we can to address the racial hatred that lives on in our country in ways both great and small. This is the sixth in a series of poems honoring the victims of the Charleston shooting.
“Eulogy: For Ethel Lee Lance”
She was funny and a pleasure to be around
A strong woman who kept the family together
Granny was the heart of the family
I could call on her for anything
If she saw something wrong, she’d tell you
She wasn’t going to sugar-coat it
But she was happy, full of joy
: someone who keeps and protects something valuable for another person
: a person who cleans and takes care of a building.
For thirty years, you kept that church
next to godliness, and the Gaillard Auditorium too,
where you took your children and grandchildren
to see the ballet, the symphony, the boys choir on tour.
All such riches were yours.
Others may have overlooked your stature, swept past
the lady with the broom, but there was nothing that belonged to them
that did not belong to you. A sexton of the church,
you rang that bell, calling on Christians to remember,
even as those recent, radical testaments
challenged them to forgive.
The words that open this poem are those of Ethel Lee Lance’s grandson, Jon Quil Lance, her daughter, Esther Lance, and her former coworker, Cam Patterson. Ethel Lee Lance was seventy, a mother of five, grandmother of seven, and great-grandmother of four; she was known to spoil children by buying them gifts and taking them to the movies. She was the cousin of Susie Jackson, who was also killed in the Charleston massacre.