Charleston County’s Unchanged Racism Requires Political Will

By Barney Blakeney

Charleston County is the state’s main attraction for tourists coming to see the history, culture and architecture, meanwhile making it a world famous destination. But beneath the accolades and adulation of historic Charleston is a haunting story of racism that’s generally avoided. That’s how the recently released report on racial disparities in the county begins.

The Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture at the College of Charleston last week released the report, a component of Avery’s Race And Social Justice Initiative funded in part by a $125,000 grant from Google awarded in 2015 after the mass murder on nine parishioners at Emanuel AME Church. The report titled “The State of Racial Disparities in Charleston County, South Carolina 2000-2015”, outlines data compiled in several categories that include Income and Poverty Levels, Gentrification and Barriers to Affordable Housing, Educational Attainment, Health and Environmental Hazards and Crime and Policing.

Avery Executive Director Dr. Patricia Williams Lessane said the report is the culmination of a year-long effort to gather information that helps set the record straight. That record has been colored by myths and misinterpretations about race relations in Charleston which has made it impossible for Blacks who overwhelmingly are impacted by racial disparities to overcome those barriers.

The statistics in the report are part of a history of racial inequity, wrote its author, Dr. Stacey Patton. Those statistics reflect a truth that must be acknowledged if our community is to work to remove them, said Lessane. And among those truths is that racial disparities in poverty remain unchanged since the 1940s, Patton added. For example, the median income for Blacks in Charleston County is less than half that of whites in the county. The unemployment rate for Blacks in the county doubles that of whites.

And in education, although Charleston County residents generally have a higher level or education achievement compared to other counties in the state, that distinction stops at the color line. While white students graduate high school at a rate of about 90 percent, Black students graduate at only about 75 percent. Among residents 25 years and older, in 2008 about 6,000 Blacks had attained a Bachelor’s Degree or higher compared to about 74,000 white residents who have attained a Bachelor’s Degree or higher.

“The data tells the story,” said Patton. “It confirms what African Americans have felt and experienced.”

Charleston Branch NAACP President Dot Scott said the report indicates that the struggle for equality remains ongoing and that what Black folks have been doing for the past 40 years clearly has produced little change. “We’ve got to go back to what got us started,” she said. Patton added that the ‘Sweet Tea’ racism that exists in the county must be challenged by political will. She pointed out that the presence of Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg at the report’s release may be an indication there are people in the community who are committed to change. “Giving the information is the first step to solutions,” she said.

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