By Barney Blakeney
Charleston County Republicans last month conducted a historic election by voting Maurice Washington the county’s first African American chairman since Reconstruction. In an era of extreme political and racial polarization, the election could provide a threshold into a new political awakening.
Washington, a Charleston native, has worked both sides of the political fence. He was elected to the non-partisan Charleston City Council in 1991 serving until 1999 and in 2013 ran for the S.C. Senate Dist. 42 seat as a Democrat. He twice made bids to become the city’s mayor. He served on former S.C. Republican Gov. Mark Sanford’s transition team. The experience made the former South Carolina State University Board of Trustees member and local business consultant realize the power and logic of being affiliated with both political parties, he said.
Two years ago the county’s Republican Party historically elected two African Americans –Washington as First Vice Chair and Nicole Claibourn as Third Vice Chair. The election of two African Americans to the county’s executive committee had not occurred in modern times. Washington said the unfamiliar history of the state’s Republican Party started by Civil War hero Robert Smalls makes him appreciate more his election as county chair, the only county chairmanship held by an African American in South Carolina. “This is 2020, it’s about time,” he said.
Though he stands in the shadow of several stalwart African American Republicans including such individuals as public schools administrator Moses Wilds, Baptist minister Rev. Willie Givens and entrepreneur Sen. Tim Scott, Washington said he accepted the challenge to become the county party’s chair because there is much work to be done. The Republican Party controls local and state governmental bodies in South Carolina as well as our national government. The Black community must have a presence in the Republican Party, he said.
Republicans are in control from The White House to the S.C. Governor’s Mansion. Within those halls issues such as prison reform, economic Opportunity Zones and the national economy are addressed. All affect Black communities across America, he said. As Charleston County chair Washington said he’ll have a voice in how those issues are addressed. Foremost among his priorities are job training and workforce development opportunities, he said.
“As chairman of the county Republican Party I see my role as an opportunity to influence the Republican majority. We have to join hands with the African American community and fight for the things that are near and dear to all of us,” Washington said.