“Everyone depended on her for everything. We all leaned on her. I just feel like she was the go-to person for everything. For everything. No matter what”Gracyn Doctor, Daughter
“I’ve learned that along with my parents, my sister has prepared me all of her life for the life I would have. She was truly a blessing. Today I am a stronger person, a woman of great distinction and poise because of the teachings I received from her. She was indeed the best big sister ever! “Bethane Middleton-Brown, Sister
Long before she came to Mother Emanuel in March of 2015, Rev. Depayne Vontrese Middleton Doctor had been ordained as a Baptist minister. By June 2015, she was at the end of a long journey to pursue the credentials to become an ordained minister of the AME church. At a conference Wednesday night, June 17th, mere hours before the Bible study in which the world lost Rev. Middleton-Doctor, she had officially completed that journey.
Born DePayne Vontrese Middleton, the second of three sisters to AME minister Rev. Leroy Middleton and his wife Frances, Rev. Middleton-Doctor resisted the call to preach she had felt from an early age. However, once answered, she served at Mt. Mariah Missionary Baptist before coming to Mother Emanuel in 2015, where she quickly became known for her powerful presence in the pulpit. Her trial sermon, “Praising in the Press,” was a big hit. Emanuel parishioner Mary Singleton said, “She was dynamite.”
By 49, she also had become known for her powerful, alto voice that resonated church walls and brought her fellow congregants to their feet. Her favorite song, according to Charles Miller Jr, an Emanuel musician, was “I Really Love the Lord.” Of the many videos available of her choir preformances, one highly circulated one features Rev. Middleton-Doctor presenting a haunting rendition of “Oh, It is Jesus,” which ends in a mighty exultation of praise.
Rev. Middleton-Doctor was the mother of four daughters, Gracyn, Kaylin, Hali and Czana. Today, they live with their Aunt Bethanne in Charlotte, NC. “She protected me, and she guided me” the Reverand’s sister states. Bethane now has custody of the two youngest daughters, and the two oldest live near by. Much like DePayne and Bethane’s upbringing, the girls will be raised alongside of their cousins.
The extremely close extended family upbringing was due to a family that had its own little chapel on a plot of land where they all had their homes in the small town of Hollywood, a half hour from Charleston. Her cousins remark that “there was a lot of love on that land.”
The Rev. Waltrina Middleton, now in Cleveland, called her cousin DePayne the “family’s voice of reason” and her loss “a tragedy on so many levels.” Her sisters remember her as “just really very nurturing to me,” “the best big sister I could ever have,” and “my beautiful Songbird.” Friends remarked that she was “truly a blessing! Always spoke, always had a smile on [her] face and always had nothing but positive things to say!”
Career and Education
Her sister remarked how intimidating it was to be her younger sister growing up. Rev. Middleton-Doctor was the queen of her high school, who went on to receive a biology degree from Columbia College and a master’s degree from Southern Wesleyan in organizational management.
She served as the director for the Charleston County Community Development Block Grant program until 2005. By the time she had been warmly welcomed into Mother Emanuel, she had twice worked Charleston office of the US Census as a manager and grant writer and recently began working at her alma mater, Southern Wesleyan, as an admissions coordinator, a position she enjoyed. After years of a difficult divorce, unemployment, and the loss of a church home, things seemed to be on the upswing when Rev. Pinckney welcomed her to Mother Emanuel.
“DePayne truly believed in the mission of S.W.U. to help students achieve their potential by connecting faith with learning.”Tom Voss, Southern Wesleyan University President
The questions and challenges that the family of Rev. Middleton-Doctor are brave, many, and poignant. Her cousin Rev. Waltrina Middleton struggled with notions of forgiveness and the path forward, remarking:
“We never got to the truth-telling. We never got to the place where we talked about ‘Why.’ Why did this man come into this church and felt empowered to claim all these lives? We never talked about the reality of racism in this city, in this community, in this country, and what do I say to DePayne’s four daughters? What do I say to them when the headlines say ‘Forgive,’ and I’m trying to explain and reconcile that their mother was shot to death in the basement of this church?”Rev. Waltrina Middleton
But it was the family statement that truly challenged us with its powerful call to action:
At this time of grave personal loss, we ask you for two things. First, please keep our family and our church community at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. in your prayers. Next, please move away from the sidelines and unite together- regardless of your faith or religious practice- to seek an end to hatred and violence.
What happened to our family is part of a larger attack on Black and Brown bodies. To impact change, we must recognize the connection between racism, hate crimes and racialized policing. While the focus for this specific attack was on African Americans, we all have a responsibility to seek not only justice for the victims, but an end to racial injustice.
We should put our faith to action, making a conscious decision to be more than empty drums that have long lost their melodies. In South Carolina the Confederate flag – an unequivocal symbol of hate – remains on statehouse grounds. We must demand the flag be removed immediately – we cannot let icons of racism fly free within our society.Statement of the Family of Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor
We call on all people, public officials, faith leaders and Americans from all walks of life to help address the festering sores of racism as it spurs an unforgiving culture of violence. This is a big task but may become more manageable if we work together and if all people see the attack in Charleston as an attack on their own families and loved ones.”