By Barney Blakeney
Former North Charleston Mayor John E. Bourne rightfully has been described as the lead architect who engineered the transformation of an expansive blue collar community into the state’s third largest, and one of its most prosperous municipalities. Along the way Black residents and their communities played vital roles in North Charleston’s development. They ironically however, do not fully share in the transformation.
Bourne, the city’s first mayor and its leader for some two decades died January 11. He was 90. If Britain’s determined Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher can be called ‘The Iron Lady’, Bourne similarly might be called North Charleston’s ‘Iron Man’. He adeptly guided the city’s construction through transformative annexation, redevelopment and economic revitalization as he cherry-picked the city’s way to growth. Bourne’s accolades are deserved. The city he led to prominence is testimony to his achievements. Three North Charleston residents offered some context to that accomplishment.
Carolyn Lecque Collins is a daughter of the late Arnold Lecque Sr., who was among several prominent Black men who facilitated the city’s incorporation and growth. Bourne focused the incorporation effort on a nucleus that included the Park Circle and Liberty Hill communities. The predominantly Black Liberty Hill community was the city’s first predominantly Black community. To the south lay Accabee and Union Heights. To the east lay Liberty Park and Deas Hill. And northward was 10-Mile Hill. Those predominantly Black communities would be circumvented, creating ‘donut holes’ as the city grew under Bourne’s administration. Eventually it would take federal intervention to annex them into the city.
Collins said Liberty Hill community leaders like her father, Walter Jenkins, Julius Abraham, Sol White, Leroy Hilton, Eli Brockington and Rev. Mood agreed to support incorporation on promises they would be given a voice in the administration. Their voices had gone ignored by Charleston County administrators. The new municipality promised new opportunities. Those promises never were kept, she said.
North Charleston resident Dot Scott suggested why men such as Union Heights’ Roscoe Mitchell, Caleb Harper of Liberty Park and others would look to promises of a better quality of life for their communities. Growing up in the 10-Mile Hill community, Scott said racial segregation and discrimination in the 1950s and 1960s was blatant and unyielding. She recalled a neighborhood gas station which had separate bathrooms for Blacks and whites. The bathroom used by Blacks had no door, she recalled.
The late Richard Ganaway, a former a Charleston County magistrate born in Lauderdale County, Mississippi moved to Liberty Hill when he was about five years old. Like his predecessors, Ganaway’s priority was to make his community better. Ganaway’s passion led him to become one of the greatest figures in the progress of the North Charleston. He worked relentlessly with the North Charleston NAACP as one of the branch’s founding members. In 1984 Ganaway became the first Black elected to North Charleston City Council and successfully lobbied for single member district elections in the city. Ganaway’s four years on city council is peaked only by his subsequent efforts to get elected as the city’s mayor in 1991 and to the S.C. House of Representatives in 1992.
Mattese Miller Lecque currently resides in the Liberty Hill community where she spent much of her childhood. Most predominantly Black communities in the city don’t share in its prosperity, Lecque said. They in fact, have been excluded from that prosperity, she added.
Streetscaping that now enhances East Montague Avenue in the predominantly white Park Circle community also has been requested for Montague Avenue which dissects the Liberty Hill community. After nearly a decade that request remains unanswered, she noted. Lecque points to blight in predominantly Black communities like Chicora/Cherokee, Union Heights and Accabee as evidence of the discrimination perpetrated by the city’s administration. The economic prosperity and redevelopment that characterizes white communities conspicuously is absent in Black communities, she said. Bourne’s dream continues the nightmare for Blacks, she said.
Lecque and Collins, who are sisters-in-law, agree the future for Blacks in North Charleston rests on their own shoulders. Since the city’s administration doesn’t advocate for them, Black residents must insist that industry which is transforming North Charleston invests in Black communities, Lecque said. Collins said a political resolution may be achieved if Black voters act with cohesion to impact annexation, redevelopment and the design of district lines – all will be necessary to counteract the dilution of Black voting strength, she said. In short, “We gotta step up to the plate,” Collins said.