Charles­ton apol­o­gized for its role in slav­ery. Is that enough?

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Opinion - GRA­CIE BONDS STA­PLES The At­lanta Jour­nal-Con­sti­tu­tion

On the day set aside to cel­e­brate June­teenth last week, the Charles­ton, South Carolina, City Coun­cil for­mally apol­o­gized for the city’s role in the slave trade, its sup­port of slav­ery and for en­forc­ing Jim Crow-era laws.

For hun­dreds of years, the city was the en­try point for at least 100,000 slaves who were cap­tured from West Africa and shipped into the United States.

Charles­ton should be con­grat­u­lated, but it’s 2018. If you’re think­ing bet­ter late than never, I get it.

What you might find ironic is the apol­ogy fell on June 19, which marks the day, more than two years af­ter the Eman­ci­pa­tion Procla­ma­tion was signed, that en­slaved peo­ple in Texas learned that the Civil War had ended and they were free. It also hap­pened to take place two days af­ter the third an­niver­sary of the mass mur­der at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Epis­co­pal Church in Charles­ton, when the pas­tor, Cle­menta Pinck­ney, and eight black parish­ioners were shot and killed by a self-de­scribed white su­prem­a­cist.

Charles­ton now joins a long list of cities and states that have apol­o­gized for their par­tic­i­pa­tion in the slave trade, in­clud­ing Ala- bama, Vir­ginia, Florida, North Carolina, An­napo­lis, Mary­land, and New Jer­sey.

This lat­est apol­ogy, ac­cord­ing to Pa­tri­cia Wil­liams Les­sane, a cul­tural an­thro­pol­o­gist at the Col­lege of Charles­ton and the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Col­lege of Charles­ton’s Avery Re­search Cen­ter for African Amer­i­can His­tory and Cul­ture, was nearly a year in the mak­ing.

But it was more than just an apol­ogy. Rather the res­o­lu­tion 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. It also plans to memo­ri­al­ize un­marked graves of African-Amer­i­cans and en­slaved Africans, im­prove pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion, and im­ple­ment poli­cies that en­cour­age busi­nesses to strive for racial equal­ity in health care, hous­ing and wages.

An­thony Greene, an as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor of African-Amer­i­can stud­ies and so­ci­ol­ogy at the Col­lege of Charles­ton, called the apol­ogy sym­bolic and pointed to the dou­ble-digit dis­par­i­ties be­tween whites and blacks when it comes to hous­ing, em­ploy­ment, im­pris­on­ment and other mea­sures of well-be­ing.

Les­sane, who last Novem­ber co-au­thored a racial dis­par­i­ties re­port on Charles­ton County, said the find­ings paint a bleak pic­ture of the ob­sta­cles black res­i­dents face daily, mak­ing it vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to break free of cy­cles of poverty, crim­i­nal­iza­tion, and in­car­cer­a­tion.

Greene said the city’s apol­ogy for slav­ery un­der­lines some level of hypocrisy sim­i­lar to on­go­ing events that have gained na­tional at­ten­tion. On one hand, the apol­ogy sym­bol­izes ef­forts to rec­og­nize and per­haps rec­on­cile with its own his­tory, yet Charles­ton, as well as through­out the state, has made sure its Con­fed­er­ate mon­u­ments, relics of the en­slave­ment era, are not re­moved.


The City of Charles­ton still has work to do to amend for its role in the slave trade, but an apol­ogy is a start.

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