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