By Barney Blakeney
Charleston City Council June 19 was slated to consider a resolution to denounce and apologize for the city’s role in slavery. The resolution symbolically was scheduled to go before council on Juneteenth. The vote was taken after The Chronicle’s press deadline (UPDATE: The resolution was approved by a 7-5 vote). City officials said they anticipated its approval. In anticipation of the resolution’s passage, city officials and others were asked their views of its significance and possible impact.
Charleston City Councilman William Dudley Gregorie proposed the resolution as part of a collaborative effort in conjunction with the Social Justice Racial Equity Collaborative. Gregorie said the resolution is the first step in addressing longstanding racial disparities in economics, employment, housing, criminal justice and other areas that are the focus of The Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture at the College of Charleston report titled “The State of Racial Disparities in Charleston County, South Carolina 2000-2015”.
“Slavery is not dead nor is it in our past. Its vestiges continue in our daily lives,” Gregorie said Monday. He cited gentrification that displaces Black residents, the lack of affordable housing and discriminatory criminal justice and policing practices and policies as systemic manifestations of those vestiges. What comes after, and in addition to an apology is a valid question, he said.
Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg said, “As our citizens showed the world so powerfully in the aftermath of the Mother Emanuel tragedy just three years ago, Charleston is committed to being a city of peace and love. That’s why I think it’s important and right for our city government to acknowledge and apologize for its role in administering and regulating slavery here in the city, which is what this resolution is designed to do.”
Gregorie said he feels the city has been progressive in addressing disparities wrought by slavery. Just as every individual should work to mitigate the vestiges of slavery, the city also has that responsibility. Among the ways the city is fulfilling its responsibility is the establishment of the Social Justice Racial Equity Collaborative and the selection of a vendor to conduct a race biased study of the police department, Gregorie said.
Charleston Branch NAACP President Dot Scott on Monday said she’s glad that city council will consider the resolution. Like Gregorie, she said our community continues to live with the vestiges of slavery daily. Those who say they had nothing to do with that part of our history are the benefactors of it, she added. And she is among those who say the community must do more than make an apology.
“If you knock me down and say you’re sorry, but don’t help me up – you don’t acknowledge the human rights violations, civil rights violations, economic inequities or discrimination in housing and public education – you’ve done nothing to balance the scale,” she said.
“I don’t know if this is just another symbolic gesture, but it opens the door to discuss what happens next,” Scott said. What happens next largely will depend on citizens, Gregorie indicted. “Things like this can sit on the shelf if the people don’t push it,” he said. Of the resolution he said, “I’d rather do something than do nothing.”