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Bourne & Summey Get Busts, Black Community Gets Busted
7/8/2015 2:55:01 PM

By Barney Blakeney

Last week’s unveiling of busts of North Charleston mayors John Bourne and Keith Summey at the North Charleston Coliseum, Performing Arts Center and Charleston Area Convention Center complex was a fitting honor to the two men who most are responsible for the development of the city we know today. It also should serve as focal point to Blacks who have been lulled to sleep as the city that grows around them all but erases their existence.

Both Bourne and Summey each have served 20 years as the city’s mayor during it’s most critical development stages. Bourne was its first mayor after the city incorporated. Summey is its third elected mayor. The late Bobby Kinard served a couple of years before stepping down.

Bourne and Summey deserve last week’s honor. They took the blue collar rust-encrusted collection of hodgepodge communities that we called the North Area as I grew up, connected the dots and turned it into the state’s third largest and highest grossing retail sales municipality. North Charleston today is an attractive expansive city that offers almost anything a vibrant growing population can want. It’s got green, it’s got glass, it’s got water, it’s got industry, it’s got technology and for right now, it’s got Black folks. But if you want to see what North Charleston may look like in the not too distant future, take a look at downtown Charleston. North Charleston’s moving toward solid upscale middle class status. And that means no Black folks.

I grew up in North Charleston back in 1960s Accabee. The North Area was a segregated haven for poor Blacks and whites. To my preadolescent mind, nobody seemed to have very much money. Some families did better than others, but we all were on the same economic level it seemed - even the white folks who usually lived right across the road or tracks, depending on where you were. That is except the white folks who lived in the Park Circle community. They were the North Area’s upper crust. At least I thought so.

When the North Area incorporated back in the early 1970s, John Bourne and crew must have had some wild ideas about what they wanted the city to be. They gerrymandered the boundary lines taking in desirable white communities and leaving out Black communities such as Accabee, Union Heights, Jenkins Terrace and Liberty Hill as donut holes. The U.S. Justice Dept. had to step in to halt the racially discriminating annexation program. The justice department had to do the same thing to the City of Charleston because of Joe Riley’s selective annexation program.

Despite the city founders’ best efforts to exclude Black folks from the get-go, by 2000 North Charleston was more than 50% Black. But Keith Summey took a page from Joe Riley’s play book and has undertaken an aggressive redevelopment program that’s creating housing unaffordable to low and moderate income Blacks. In a few years Black population in the city likely will slip below 40 percent. I suspect ultimately, the Black population will slip to about 30 percent just like the City of Charleston. The role of Black folks in North Charleston is reflected by the city’s employment demographics.

In a city where Blacks are the majority population, there are several city departments - purchasing, personnel, legal, parking fund and weed and seed - in which no Blacks are employed. Most Blacks are employed in public works and the recreation department. About 25 percent of the police and fire department employees are Black. Some 400 of the city’s 431 Black employees are employed in four departments - public works (1152), recreation (91), police ((89) and fire (52).

Politically the city’s leadership always has excluded Black folks. Of the five majority Black city council districts, only three are represented by Blacks. What is that about!? And we all know the deal when it comes to crime. North Charleston has the region’s highest crime rate. But that’s only in predominantly Black communities. White folks in the city don’t have a problem with crime.

In a few months North Charleston will re-elect an administration that has been bad for Black folks. Although nearly 50 percent of the population is Black less than 10 percent of its businesses are owned by Blacks. And the city has the county’s most troubled public schools, all predominantly Black. By contrast, it also has two of its best high schools. Both predominantly white.

The unfortunate reality is when Black folks go to the polls in November, they won’t have many alternatives. Their leadership has not groomed or positioned representation that can take the city in a more progressive direction. While Bourne and Summey get busts, North Charleston’s Black communities will continue to get busted.

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