Hannah Alani, Post and Courier, June 19, 2019
Dozens of African-American faith leaders, attorneys and activists pleaded with Charleston City Council to vote “yes” on a 2-page resolution that would apologize for the city’s role in slavery.
Some asked for reparations: easier access to loans, the removal of Confederate statues.
After hours of public comment and deliberation between council members, Charleston leaders voted 7-5 on Tuesday night in favor of a resolution apologizing for the city’s role in slavery.
Before the vote, [Coucilman Keith] Waring, another African-American councilman, said the city continues to observe Jim Crow-era zoning rules. That’s why he voted no.
“Without economic empowerment — as a descendant of slaves — I cannot support this resolution,” Waring said.
Griffin, who represents West Ashley residents, said the majority of his constituents said they did not want the city to apologize for something they did not do. A serious apology, he said, would be the city moving to address flooding issues on Huger Street, where African-Americans live.
The resolution does have tangible goals. It calls for the creation of an office of racial reconciliation, which would help uncover racial disparities in the community and serve people who feel they’re being discriminated against.
Other goals in the doctrine include:
- Memorializing unmarked graves of African-Americans and enslaved Africans.
- Better public education.
- Policies that encourage businesses to strive for racial equality in health care, housing and wages.
City Councilwoman Carol Jackson said the council is “commanded to apologize and repent and go forward,” she said.
Before the vote, Councilman Mike Seekings said he hoped his “yes” vote encourages people to stay engaged when the city deliberates issues like affordable housing.
For several years, the city of Charleston was the wealthiest city in the United States as it profited from the slave trade and the plantation economy. Charleston City Hall was built by African slaves, Mayor John Tecklenburg said.
As soon as the city became a legal entity in 1783 it adopted the practices of the slave badge system, he said.
Owners leased out services of their slaves using the badges, which were purchased through the city at a fee. Brick makers, layers, carpenters, cooks, bakers, seamstresses and gardeners were among the skilled slaves hired out using the badges. In 1850, the city of Charleston earned $15,108 from badge fees — about $600,000 today. The city also received business tax fees from the sale of slaves.
Harlan Greene talks about the different slave and free men’s badges that were used in the city of Charleston as a way to identify slaves who were allowed to work off their owner’s property and free people of color back in the 1780s.
In 1837, the city funded and ran the so-called Work House, once connected to the old City Jail on Magazine Street. It was essentially a torture chamber — a disciplinary facility where criminals and slaves were sent to be executed, beaten or chained to a treadmill to grind corn.
Not only did the city collect money from slave owners, the city assisted in the punishment of slaves, Tecklenburg said.