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Grace Will Lead Us Home

The Charleston Church Tragedy and the Hard, Inspiring Journey to Forgiveness

Jennifer Berry Hawes

St. Martin's Griffin

Grace Will Lead Us Home Download image

ISBN10: 1250621518
ISBN13: 9781250621511

Trade Paperback

336 Pages



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On June 17, 2015, twelve members of the historically black Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, welcomed a young white man to their evening Bible study. He arrived with a pistol, 88 bullets, and hopes of starting a race war. Dylann Roof’s massacre of nine innocents during their closing prayer horrified the nation. Two days later, some relatives of the dead stood at Roof’s hearing and said, “I forgive you.” That grace offered the country a hopeful ending to an awful story. But for the survivors and victims’ families, the journey had just begun.

In Grace Will Lead Us Home, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jennifer Berry Hawes provides a definitive account of the tragedy’s aftermath. With unprecedented access to the grieving families and other key figures, Hawes offers a nuanced and moving portrait of the events and emotions that emerged in the massacre’s wake.

The two adult survivors of the shooting begin to make sense of their lives again. Rifts form between some of the victims’ families and the church. A group of relatives fights to end gun violence, capturing the attention of President Obama. And a city in the Deep South must confront its racist past. This is the story of how, beyond the headlines, a community of people begins to heal.

An unforgettable and deeply human portrait of grief, faith, and forgiveness, Grace Will Lead Us Home is destined to be a classic in the finest tradition of journalism.


Praise for Grace Will Lead Us Home

“This magisterial account of the 2015 hate crime and its aftermath, by a Pulitzer-winning local reporter, delivers a heart-rending portrait of life for the survivors and a powerful meditation on the meaning of mercy.”—The New York Times (Editor's Choice)

“In Grace Will Lead Us Home, Hawes delivers a rich and powerful account of the events, actors and consequences of the Mother Emanuel tragedy, drawing upon her considerable talents as a decorated investigative journalist.”—Charleston Post and Courier

“Fresh and compelling . . . Hawes captures candid scenes deftly. People are drawn with insight and depth, and the book’s pace clips along like that of a cliff-hanger or mystery.”—Charleston Magazine

"In heartbreaking detail, this tour de force of reportage contrasts the goodness and bravery of the victims with the actions of the dead-eyed killer on a mission of hate."—O, The Oprah Magazine

"Grace Will Lead Us Home is more than a recounting of the crime and its aftermath . . . Hawes reflects on the power of anger, pain, and forgiveness in this moving and personal look at a group of people whose legacies are shaping today’s South.”—Garden & Gun

“In Grace Will Lead Us Home, Jennifer Berry Hawes breathes poetry into tragedy to bring to life the epic grief that haunted a nation’s moral imagination. Written like a novel, observed like a sage, and narrated with scholarly rigor, Hawes’ stirring account of a dark night in Charleston shows how it seared the American conscience while forcing lionized politicians to find courage, and tin man religious leaders to find a heart, for the people they both claimed to serve. If white supremacy is ever to meet a death knell, this ringing endorsement of fallen yet redeemable humanity will echo loudly in our hearts.”—Michael Eric Dyson

"Jennifer Berry Hawes has written a remarkable document on one of the most horrific acts of this young century. But it's her ability to connect a series of carefully-observed scenes—the difference in size and location of two monuments, a Republican governor's story of racism (and the state representative who took out his hearing aid in response), a dialogue between a husband and wife about the biblical Parable of the Sower—that gives this book its power. Together, they evoke the racially charged soil on which this tragic event took place and remind us of the cost of failing to challenge romantic notions of the South's racial history."—Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

"The great value of this book is that it tells the stories of the survivors and victims’ families on their own terms, in all of their humanity, while also showing us how Charleston's tortured history of racism and gun violence came together on that night in June."—Gabrielle Union

"Hawes is a talented storyteller, recounting every phase of this saga while focusing on the individual tales of survivors and family members. At once horrifying and inspiring, engaging and thought-provoking, this is a definitive must-read about the Charleston tragedy."Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"With empathy and kindness, Hawes bears witness to one of the most horrific incidents in recent American history."—Booklist (starred review)

"A groundbreaking, accessible work of investigative reporting."—Library Journal (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt


Sown Among Thorns

It would be a late night. That much Felicia Sanders knew when she gathered her worn Bible and headed out into the swampy summer heat of June. She had a 5 o’clock committee meeting at Emanuel African...

About the author

Jennifer Berry Hawes

JENNIFER BERRY HAWES writes for the Charleston-based Post and Courier, where she spent a decade covering religion and now works on a team that handles in-depth investigative reporting projects for the newspaper. Her work has won many honors including a Pulitzer Prize, a George Polk Award, a National Headliner Award, and a Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma. Grace Will Lead Us Home is Hawes' first book. She lives in Charleston.

Grace Beahm

Jennifer Berry Hawes

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