The city where 40% of African slaves in the U.S. arrived is considering an apology for its role in regulating, supporting, and fostering slavery.
On Tuesday, the Charleston City Council is expected to consider and approve a resolution that recognizes and apologizes for the city’s role in slavery and the Jim Crow era. It has been in the works since August. Tuesday also marks Juneteenth, a celebration of the end of slavery.
The resolution enumerates the “atrocities” of slavery and Charleston’s role in promoting them, and pledges that the city will seek to “honor the contributions of those who were enslaved” and “assist in ameliorating remaining vestiges of slavery.” The document recognizes the role of slavery in the development of the city, saying that slave labor was “fundamental to the economy of colonial and antebellum Charleston.”
But it also goes beyond history and the economy, recognizing the psychological and cultural impact of the institution:
“The institution of slavery did not just involve physical confinement and mistreatment; it also sought to suppress, if not destroy, the cultural, religious and social values of Africans by stripping Africans of their ancestral names and customs, humiliating and brutalizing them through sexual exploitation, and selling African relatives apart from one another without regard to the connection of family, a human condition universal among all peoples of the world.”
Beyond slavery, the resolution acknowledges the injustice of Jim Crow laws and the “past wrongs inflicted on African Americans here in Charleston and elsewhere.”
To ameliorate the conditions of African Americans living in Charleston going forward, the resolution pledges to work with businesses, schools, and cultural institutions to strive for racial equality and inclusion.
William Dudley Gregorie, a council member, recognized the echoes of slavery in modern life: “The vestiges of slavery still plague us today. The modern day police force evolved from slavery—a force that kept the enslaved people in line.” The local NBC affiliate News 2 also pointed out that the building where the city council meets was built by slaves and sits less than a mile from the port where slave ships arrived.
James Bessenger, a member of the South Carolina Secessionist Party, criticized the resolution, saying, “[T]he resolution proposed by Council Gregorie will not improve housing, education, or opportunity for Charleston’s black community, it will only serve as another ploy to try and garner votes while ignoring the plight of the voters.” Last year Bessenger and black nationalist Jonathan Thrower pledged to have “peaceful dialogue” with one another in the wake of the Charlottesville rally, to prevent a similar situation from happening in their city.
Charleston’s racist past is not far below the surface. Just three years ago Dylann Roof killed nine people at a church in the city because of the color of their skin.