By Barney Blakeney
I was struck by the outcome of the November 5 municipal elections in Charleston and North Charleston. They signaled changes occurring right in front of our faces – reminded me of the old Buddy Miles song.
The Charleston City Council District 3 election resulted in an upset victory for Jason Sakran who narrowly defeated 24-year incumbent James Lewis. North Charleston two-term incumbent Todd Olds was upset by newcomer Jerome Heyward in the majority Black district that for the first time will be represented by a Black council person.
I figured the Charleston District 3 race would be surprising. Four candidates filed for the election. Lewis in the past has handily defeated all challengers. But Charleston and its council districts have changed. When I first became a newspaper writer the City of Charleston was about 70 percent Black and pretty much was confined to the peninsula. The city had changed to single member district voting, but the powers that be sill created six majority white districts of the total 12, thus maintaining half the council’s voting power and the mayor’s office. All six majority Black council districts were located on the peninsula.
Then Mayor Joseph Riley was a brilliant visionary. He studied and figured out how to capitalize on the Black Power Movement of the 1960s and despite white flight from the peninsula urban center annexed predominantly white West Ashley suburbs to restructure the political landscape. He co-opted federal urban redevelopment dollars to create the All American City that is Charleston today. In the process Black residents were displaced not only from the peninsula, but throughout the city. Most were exiled to North Charleston which then was a declining industrial expanse.
Despite efforts from people like former Charleston City Councilman Robert Ford and others to eliminate donut holes such as Ashleyville/Maryville and Orleans Woods and a federally mandated moratorium on annexations, the city was restructured. About two-thirds of the city’s Black population was relocated to North Charleston and parts unknown; and the political shuffle that’s created our twin cities was realized.
A lot of the old cats like J. Arthur Brown, Herb Fielding, Rev. Robert Woods, Caleb Harper Roscoe Mitchell, Thomasina McPherson and Big John Chisolm have gone on to glory. In those days I thought they weren’t radical enough, too passive. Before they passed on I came to understand what they were up against – a methodical diabolically uncanny perpetual system of domination. And here we are 30 years later watching the same method of disempowerment and displacement take place in North Charleston even as Black political power is at its peak!
James Lewis’ loss in the District 3 council race in Charleston signals what’s in store over the next four-six years. Today Blacks hold four seats on Charleston council. After January that number will decline to three seats held by Blacks in the city where only about 25 percent of the population is Black. Municipal elections in 2021 may reduce that number even more.
A lot of stuff contributed to that loss of political clout – inattention, political inexperience, indoctrination, inadequate education – even greed and selfishness on the part of some Black folks who knew better. Whatever the reasons, it’s unbearably distressing to watch the same thing play out in North Charleston.
I love me some Dot Williams and have the utmost respect for Sam Hart, but why are they still in office after damn near 30 years?! Are there no other Blacks in North Charleston who can fill those seats? What does that say about the Black community’s ability to groom and develop new leadership?
Mayor Summey last year tried to jump the Ashley River to expand North Charleston’s city limits. New housing developments are going up all over the place. And a few years ago the feds placed a moratorium on North Charleston’s annexation efforts – sound familiar? November 5 Jerome Heyward, became to first Black person to represent North Charleston council District 5, a majority Black council district! I’m told that district is about 75 percent Black. How does that happen?
Things are changing and we either ain’t paying ‘tainchun or we just don’t give a dang. Either way, we’re being disempowered, disenfranchised and displaced. My mind’s been going through them changes. What’s up wit dat?