By Barney Blakeney
Two months ago, Charleston City Council narrowly approved a resolution apologizing for its role in slavery. And council’s 7-5 split vote reflects the divide many feel about whether an apology is necessary or meaningful. It’s taken more than 150 years for the city’s leaders to come to the point where an apology is made. This week reflecting on his vote against the resolution, Charleston City Councilman Keith Warning said it may take a little longer before that apology is demonstrated by anything substantive.
In his first interview about the controversial resolution since the June 19 vote, Waring said Charleston in 2018 is among the world’s most prosperous cities. Billions of dollars in economic development is ongoing and as the primary permitting agency for much of that development, the city is in position to dictate how that development occurs. Without an economic component attached to its apology, the resolution rings hollow, Waring said.
“I couldn’t support that. And I won’t support that!” he said.
Waring insists there was ample opportunity for drafters of the resolution to include economic and other inclusionary aspects to the apology. He pointed to other cities such as Atlanta, Ga. under Mayor Maynard Jackson’s administration as examples of meaningful economic inclusion that empowers the descendants of slaves and notes there are a number of areas in which the City of Charleston can drive inclusion that offers tangible aspects to its apology. Since that didn’t happen, he only can conclude substantive atonement is not intended, Waring said.
Specifically he pointed to the construction of the International African American Museum. The project, 18 years in the making with construction slated to begin in 2019 offers an opportunity for minority business incubation that can place Black businesses along the Calhoun and East Bay streets corridors. And now that the city no longer requires tour guides to pass its proficiency test to become licensed, that door is wide open for Black business inclusion, he said. The city’s underutilized Maritime Center adjacent to the site of the new museum is a prime location for a Black owned Gullah Cuisine restaurant, he said.
“If we can send a man to the moon, we certainly can create African American businesses that produce high yield benefits to the Black community,” Waring said. But he also admonishes Black entrepreneurs to think beyond traditional business models if they are to survive in the contemporary business environment. “Part of the problem is our failure to expand to a corporate form of business because we want to maintain total control. We’re missing a whale of an opportunity as a result,” he said.
The City of Charleston in July issued this statement, “Long term, the city will be looking at several areas of opportunity with respect to improving tolerance, understanding, and equal opportunity for all of the city’s residents. In the meantime, the resolution passed by city council called for a number of action steps to be taken more imminently, including the creation of an office of racial reconciliation, efforts to improve the quality of education for students in Charleston County, an enhanced recognition of the contributions of Africa Americans through public events, spaces, and monuments, and the promotion of racial equality to the city’s businesses, institutions, organizations, and associations.”
Waring thinks those words can be meaningful. “If we properly apply the fertilizer, the grass will grow,” he said.