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Earlier this year, a white man shot and killed nine black parishioners at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. Liz Alston is the historian at that church and she invited NPR's Asma Khalid to spend an afternoon with the Alston family as they hashed out issues of race, politics and power.
LIZ ALSTON: Well, come on in. These are members of my family.
ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Liz Alston is the 74-year-old matriarch in this house.
ALSTON: And my sister, Alfredia.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Hey, Judge.
RICHARD FIELDS: Hey, darling, how you doing?
KHALID: Liz's family is deeply political. They voted in every presidential election they could. But this campaign season, the political disagreements are not about a specific presidential candidate but rather a specific issue - the rise of racial protests. For Liz, there are especially deep divides across generations, though she struggled to find the right label for her great niece, 22-year-old LaCurtia Brown.
ALSTON: She's millenninum (ph), right? Millenninum.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Millennial.
LACURTIA BROWN: Millennium.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: M. I-U-M.
BROWN: M. Millennium.
KHALID: As the family gathered around the sofa, the conversation began with presidential politics. Everyone here supports Hillary Clinton. But quickly the talk turned toward the protesters who had interrupted a Clinton campaign event in October at a historically black college in Atlanta.
BROWN: I think protesting is harmless.
KHALID: That's LaCurtia Brown. She says she's never attended a protest rally herself, but she agrees with the activists and understands why they're targeting Clinton now.
BROWN: They just want a voice. They want to be heard, you know? So when she's not in office, you know, she'll hear the people more
KHALID: But 95-year-old Richard Fields gently admonishes her. He's known in the family simply as The Judge. And on this day, he's decked out in a matching vest, jacket and hat. He says the Clinton protesters were being disrespectful.
FIELDS: You got this lady who is about to become president of the United States and you're disturbing 1,000 people, 1,500 people by Black Lives Matters. Everybody there believes black life matters. But all the life matters, and you included in all lives. If you want to be special, nobody cares about you.
KHALID: Some family members awkwardly shift their weight on the sofa, but nobody speaks up. After all, The Judge is an icon. He was born in the segregated South and went on to become one of the highest ranking black judges in Charleston. But for Liz, the situation isn't so black and white. Black Lives Matter is a confusing new force.
ALSTON: I feel a kind of kinship for the Black Lives Matter.
KHALID: Liz was a student of the Civil Rights Movement. She went to college in the '60s, protested for equal rights and even got arrested.
ALSTON: In the past, we've had to fight for these things because of the resistance of white America.
KHALID: But she says these days, it feels like the activists don't have a clear goal
ALSTON: I may be being a little bit condescending, but they'll have to find something to do that we have not done.
KHALID: Liz has attended Emanuel AME for 47 years. As she talks, a painting of the church hangs on the living room wall, gazing down at her family. She says racism is still a problem, but she also thinks times are changing.
ALSTON: All of the things that happened from the Confederate flag, the governor jumped on it or when the killing of the Emanuel nine, the chief of police right away say it's a hate crime. So that the reasons for marching just simply went down the drain.
KHALID: After the political talk died down, Liz invited the family to have some sweet tea, red rice and collard greens. Twenty-two-year-old LaCurtia went into the backyard and spoke more candidly.
BROWN: I think that what they don't understand as older people is that Black Lives Matter is not just about protesting. You know, it's all over media as a hashtag. It's just a message to examine the injustice among black people.
KHALID: She thinks the relationship cops have with the black committee needs to change. Black Lives Matter has upended the old-school civil rights hierarchy, but what that will mean is unclear. Even within one family, not everyone agrees. Asma Khalid, NPR News.
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