By Barney Blakeney
As redevelopment along the central Meeting Street corridor of the Charleston peninsula transforms familiar 20th century landmarks into structural hints of what the 21st century will bring, some expressed curiosity about the thoughts of visionaries such as former Charleston City Councilman Kwadjo Campbell. I asked Campbell what he thinks about the redevelopment changing the area.
During an early Monday telephone interview from Greenville, Campbell said he is saddened and disappointed by rising structures that cast shadows over the peninsula Eastside, once the predominantly Black district he represented. During Campbell’s tenure on council from 1998-2005, he constantly challenged redevelopment initiatives by Mayor Joseph Riley’s administration, often demanding economic mitigation for the predominantly low income residents of his district.
An incessant voice for economic parity, Campbell advocated that developers changing the area make economic commitments to disadvantaged Blacks. During the nearly 20 years since Campbell’s absence from the council, gentrification has displaced about half the district’s former residents.
“I’m not angry at the power structure,” Campbell said Monday, “They just do what they do. I’m angry with my people who told me I was too aggressive and demanding. We’re now seeing all the property around us being redeveloped, but the Black middle class in Charleston could have pooled resources and acquired some of that property. Our lack of advocacy and unwillingness to stand up for ourselves did us in. Others build wealth within their communities. We should do the same,” Campbell lamented.
Since leaving council and the city, Campbell has remained engaged in economic advocacy for Charleston’s Black communities. In 2017 Campbell’s business consulting firm JC & Associates proposed to Charleston County Council a 10-year, $41 million economic stimulus package Campbell said would impact job training, affordable housing, African American tourism, revolving loans and community education. And last year the company in conjunction with several sponsors presented the sixth annual African American Tourism Conference at The College of Charleston.
About the redevelopment he foretold Campbell said, “They’re not building for us. I see us (continually being displaced) headed to Summerville and Goose Creek – being pushed further out. James Island and West Ashley are also seeing encroachment. There is blame on all sides, but we don’t present any challenge,” he said.