CHARLESTON, S.C., June 26 (UPI) -- Speaking Friday at the funeral of South Carolina state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, President Obama told the families of the victims of last week's shooting, "the nation shares your grief."
Pinckney's hourslong funeral Friday at the College of Charleston's TD Arena, featured sermons from several pastors and was capped by a eulogy from Obama.
"For the families, the nation shares in your grief," he said. "Our pain cuts that much deeper because it happened in a church."
Pinckney was a pastor at the Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, where he and eight other people were shot to death June 17.
Obama said he didn't know Pinckney well, but he had met him years earlier.
"The first thing I noticed was his graciousness, his smile, his reassuring baritone, his deceptive sense of humor -- all qualities that helped him wear so effortlessly the heavy burden of expectation," Obama said.
"Rev. Pinckney embodied a politics that was neither mean nor small. He conducted himself quietly and kindly and diligently. He encouraged progress not by pushing his ideas along but by seeking out your ideas -- partnering with you to make things happen."
The funerals for two of the shooting victims -- Ethel Lance and Sharonda Coleman-Singleton -- were held Thursday.
Prior to Friday's funeral, Pinckney lay in state at the Statehouse in Columbia on Wednesday. On Thursday, a wake was held at St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church in Ridgeland, S.C., where he grew up.
Pinckney, 41, said he first felt the calling to preach when he was just 13 years old at the St. John A.M.E. church, The New York Times reported. He told the pastor, the Rev. John Paul Brown, he wanted to be "a humble bishop of the A.M.E. church."
Pinckney was ordained at 18 and immediately served at a church in Green Pond, S.C.
In college, Pinckney earned a master's degree in divinity, but, also seeing a future in politics, got a master's in public administration. He was elected to South Carolina's House of Representatives at age 23, becoming the youngest elected black member of the Legislature.
He won a state Senate seat after serving two terms in the House.
Pinckney is survived by his wife, Jennifer, and daughters Malana and Eliana.
Also on Friday, shooting victim the Rev. DePayne Middleton Doctor, 49, was scheduled to be buried. Funeral processions for Cynthia Hurd, 54, Tywanza Sanders, 26, Susie Jackson, 87, were scheduled for Saturday.
Daniel Simmons, 74, will receive funeral ceremonies in Charleston and Columbia beginning Tuesday. Funeral plans for Myra Thompson, 59, are still developing.
Speaking of the other eight victims, Obama called them "good people."
"Decent people. God-fearing people. People so full of life and so full of kindness. People who ran the race, who persevered. People of great faith," he said.
Obama also spoke about the racism that allegedly motivated the shooting last week.
"It was an act that drew on a long history of violence and arson and shots fired at churches, not random but as a means of control, a way to terrorize and oppress."
Of the alleged killer, Obama said he likely imagined the act would incite fear and violence.
"Oh, but God works in mysterious ways," Obama said to applause. "God has different ideas. He didn't know he was being used by God. Blinded by hatred, the enraged killer could not see the grace surrounding Rev. Pinckney and that Bible study group."
Obama also addressed the debate over the flying of Confederate flag sparked by the killings.
"For too long we were blind that the Confederate flag stirred in too many of our citizens," he said. "It's true a flag did not cause these murders. The flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride.
"For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation. Removing the flag from this state's Capitol would not be an act of political correctness, it would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be an acknowledgement that the cause for which they fought, the cause of slavery, was wrong."
Obama ended the eulogy with a chorus of "Amazing Grace," prompting those in attendance to stand up and sing along with him.
He named of the nine victims, one by one, saying they each "found that grace."
Andrew V. Pestano contributed to this report.