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Saunders, Others Note Vanishing of Black Business, Social Fabric "Intentional"
7/16/2014 3:50:30 PM

William "Bill" Saunders
By Barney Blakeney

The revitalization on the Charleston peninsula and Neck Area will inject billions of dollars into the local economy and ultimately create a new community vastly different from the one which exists today. But will Black residents be a part of that new community?

Since 1980 Black population on the peninsula and Neck Area has declined by almost 300 percent. In 1980 Blacks represented about 70 percent of the community’s population. Today they represent only about 25 percent of the population. And as gentrification and redevelopment continues, that number continues to decline.

In recent weeks members of several neighborhood associations have questioned developers about the changes they are bringing to communities. The monthly meeting of the Wagner Terrace Neighborhood Association recently was the venue for such discussion.

Charleston Dist. 6 City Councilman and Wagner Terrace resident William Dudley Gregorie said he invited to the meeting some local developers to discuss ongoing redevelopment from Spring Street north to the Neck Area which impacts the community.

He said the invitation was extended because of the questions many have. Over the past three decades gentrification and redevelopment has displaced tens of thousands of Blacks living in traditional communities where their numbers translated into social, economic and political power.

“It has been intentional,” Committee On Better Racial Assurance (COBRA) CEO William Saunders said of the erosion of traditional Black communities back in 2010. Citing several Black communities where business and social institutions once flourished, Saunders said casualties of the redevelopment of traditional Black communities have been Black families, businesses and schools.

The Civil Rights Movement empowered Blacks politically ushering in the realistic possibility of self determination.

Saunders and others say a concerted effort was begun to erode that potential. Today, 50 years after the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Black communities that nurtured social and economic achievement are all but gone, Saunders said.

“All that’s left now are some of our churches,” he said. “None of that was accidental. The Black majority in places like Charleston had to be destroyed.” Dispersing concentrated Black communities created a disconnect and diluted its political power base, he said.

Wagner Terrace resident Maurice Washington was at the association meeting. He said redevelopment has pluses and minuses. While it increases property values, brings in new businesses, tax revenues and eliminates blight, it also displaces residents. And Tax Increment Financing Districts (TIF districts) created to provide infrastructure for new developments redirects and redistributes taxes from existing communities.

Washington said there should be a broader discussion of redevelopment in the area that addresses the impacts on existing communities. As the Neck Area development and development of the west side Horizon Project commences, discussions should include impacts on Rosemont, Silver Hill and Four Mile/Hibernian and the Gadsden Green public housing complex. Redevelopment’s impact on low and fixed income families should be part of the discussion, he said.

Gregorie said for him revitalization means jobs. The Horizon Project will bring new high tech jobs and more opportunities for women and minority owned businesses to the community, he said. Residents of existing communities must prepare for those opportunities.

Gregorie said he also is concerned about displacement. To that end, he thinks a discussion about the need for education on wealth building and investment should take place and there must be a priority put on insuring young people in the community are prepared to participate in the new economy.

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