By D.R.E. James
Charleston is to chattel slavery what Las Vegas is to legalized gambling. Magnolia Plantation could very well be the Mirage, Boone Hall is Caesar’s Palace and Middleton Place, the MGM Grand. Both industries built their cities immense wealth from the ground up.The only difference is that one hosts world championship boxing matches and poker tournaments and the other is a venue for oyster shucking competitions and celebrations of matrimony.
This is why there is not a more ideal city to discuss reparations than Charleston, South Carolina. The reparations forum last November at the Gaillard Center was full of professors, rappers, community activists and poets.They delivered passionate speeches, captivating lyrics and valid points, but this forum, just like most matters pertaining to the H.R. 40 (as in 40 acres) Bill, failed to yield any tangible progression. It was essentially a horse and pony show.
I don’t want to waste any more time or ink attempting to describe the current level of tumult ignited by racial injustice right now. Day by day, any statue commemorating white supremacy is being lassoed, toppled, decapitated and defaced. Schools named after bigots like Robert E. Lee are being re-named along with the professional football team in Washington, DC . NASCAR is severing ties with the Confederate battle flag and even the stubborn state of Mississippi is removing it from their state flag. It’s damn near impossible not to be shaken up for this paradigm shift.
So on June 24 when the statue of John C. Calhoun was lowered from its perch 115 feet above Marion Square, there was every reason to believe the plantations of Charleston knew they were on the hot seat. That’s why when deputies found Molotov cocktails from botched arson attempts at a few of those plantations, I wasn’t surprised.
Like the John C. Calhoun statue, these five plantations in Charleston: Magnolia, Boone Hall, Middleton Place, Drayton Hall and McLeod are blatant vestiges to white supremacy. No matter how charming they try to make the porticoes and peacocks seem, they were essentially death camps. No matter how authentic the interpreters are, or how genuine the tour guides seem to be, they could never curate or convey the wickedness and atrocities that took place on these plantations.
Recently I’ve corresponded with representatives from several of the plantations. They wanted to meet up for coffee and buy me lunch. I believe these gestures are due to them realizing the days of them raking in millions upon millions off their painstakingly preserved Antebellum hoopla are dwindling and they’re wanting to know how they can save face and keep the foot of social morality off their necks.
This is where reparations come into play. Between the five plantations I mentioned, they occupy a staggering 2,099 acres. In square footage, that’s about 3.2 square miles. To put things into context, the accumulated space is larger than over 100 towns in South Carolina. It would be roughly the size of Kingstree, Bamberg or Cottageville.
I believe the land should be divided into parcels and granted to any and every Black person who can successfully prove through a criteria that their ancestors were indeed enslaved in Charleston County. The land should be non-taxed and there should be a program in place to educate the recipients on ways to develop and utilize it. Wouldn’t this make perfect sense, given the fact that their ancestors worked that land, for free – under horrific circumstances? Isn’t land ownership a promising path to generational wealth?
The fact that these plantations were not demolished after 1865 is sickening. If they want to keep the main houses for “historical and educational value” so be it, but there is absolutely no way all this land should go to waste in the name of preserving an evil past. A proposal like this would insure a non-profit like Fresh Future Farm won’t have to rely on Kickstarter campaigns to raise funds for land to combat the county’s numerous food deserts.
I’m simultaneously calling out and calling bluffs: to Mayor Tecklenburg, to Governor McMaster, to Tracey Todd, to the city and county of Charleston, the state of South Carolina, the Hastie family and anybody else with power to implement change. If you all are really progressive as you claim to be, don’t talk about – be about it. I’m not saying this will completely wash away the city’s deep stain of racial oppression and disparities, but it’s a tangible start.