Emanuel Nine Memorial

Preview — Aug 18, 2020

Michael Bierut and team collaborate on a custom typeface for the Memorial honoring the clergy and members who were murdered at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

On June 17, 2015, five clergy and four church members were murdered during Bible study by a white supremacist at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The Emanuel Nine Memorial honors the lives and faith of the victims with a sacred space on the grounds of the church. Designed by Michael Arad of Handel Architects, who previously designed the National September 11 Memorial at Ground Zero in NYC, the Memorial features two long, curved stone benches encircling a marble fountain engraved with the victims’ names.

Arad asked Pentagram to provide pro bono counsel on the project’s graphic design, particularly the lettering that would appear on the memorial itself. Pentagram Partner Michael Bierut and Associate Jonny Sikov were reluctant to recommend one of the standard typefaces, like Optima, that are typically used in these situations, and offered instead to explore custom typeface unique to Mother Emanuel’s history and character. On a trip to Charleston to visit the church and meet with the pastor and members of the congregation, Bierut and Sikov were struck by the hand-painted inscriptions on the stained-glass windows of the church, and suggested that these might serve as a source of inspiration.

To create the typeface, the Pentagram team commissioned Jon Key and Wael Morcos, the partners of Morcos Key, who brought important perspectives to the project: Key as a Black designer who grew up in the American South, and the Lebanon-born Morcos as an expert interpreter of calligraphy. The result is an expressive blackletter character set that both complements the organic forms of the Memorial, and evokes the legacy of the Mother Emanuel Church. Working with Key and Marcos, the Pentagram designers also created a special symbol for the Memorial, a number “9” that echoes the curves of the two benches in a shape inspired by the fountain.

The typeface can be seen on the Memorial website, where funds are currently being raised with the goal of completing construction by the end of 2021.

Dedicated to the Emanuel Nine: Reverend Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Mrs. Cynthia Graham Hurd, Mrs. Susie J. Jackson, Mrs. Ethel Lee Lance, Reverend DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, Mr. Tywanza Kibwe Diop Sanders, Reverend Daniel Lee Simmons, Sr., and Mrs. Myra Singleton Quarles Thompson.

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