For the first time in 17 years Mount Pleasant Town Council will not have an African American representative as a member. The disappearance of Black representation on the town’s council mirrors the racial dynamics of the East Cooper community that once was home to predominantly Black residents.
The town that was to become Mount Pleasant originally was occupied by the Sewee people and was settled by the English in 1680. By 1875 73 percent of the population of the population in Charleston County was Black. Robert Scanlon, a former slave, founded Scanlonville from what formerly had been Remley Plantation. The Charleston Land Company which he founded purchased large tracts of land in the area and sold lots to freedmen seeking to purchase their own land.
Initially large communities of Black residents such as Remley’s Point, Snowden and the Four Mile community were excluded from the town that grew out of the ‘Old Village’ which expanded some 24 miles along U.S. Highway 17. Mount Pleasant grew and evolved separated from Charleston by the Cooper River until in 2010 the town became the state’s fourth largest municipality with about 68,000 residents. Traditionally Black communities were redeveloped and their residents displaced. The town’s Black population today is about seven percent Black.
For the past 17 years Thomasena Stokes-Marshall was its first and only African American town council member. Though other Blacks have offered as candidates to serve, no other has been successful. Stokes-Marshall said last week she finds the lack of diversity on the council disturbing, but the job she undertook in 1998 has become overwhelming. The town’s population has doubled since her initial election.
As the only African American on the eight-member council, Stokes-Marshall said though often criticized as being a sell-out to the Black community, hers was the only voice it had on a body that sometimes was clueless or insensitive to the concerns of Black residents.
“I had no intention of making my service on council a career,” said the retired New York, N.Y. bank employee whose familial roots are in the Snowden community. “But if you’re serious about doing the job, you have to put in the time and energy.”
Seventeen years service was long enough said Stokes-Marshall who thought Rodly Millet, another African American, would succeed her. “As a member of several boards in the town, he’s been engaged,” Stokes-Marshall said. Millet finished sixth in a race that included 12 candidates vying for four seats available.
Although Millet and others have been unsuccessful in Mount Pleasant’s at-large elections, Stokes-Marshall feels confident another African American eventually will be seated on the council. “I proved it can happen. But we have to get a candidate who has crossover appeal. The Black community alone can not elect a Black candidate,” she said.
Though Black communities east of the Cooper River have resisted annexation into the town, Stokes-Marshall and others agree they are jeopardized by encroaching development.
Housing costs east of the Cooper River are among the highest in the state. Developers are looking at communities such as Snowden, Six Mile, Seven Mile and Hamlin as prime sites for redevelopment. The Sweetgrass Overlay District and Gullah Geechie Heritage Corridor offer some protection, but developers aided by insensitive representatives are finding ways to overcome those obstacles, Stokes-Marshall said. Without voices on the political bodies that make decisions, the future of those communities look more and more dim, she said.