On Juneteenth (June 19), the Charleston, South Carolina, city council gathered in a building constructed by enslaved Africans to formally apologize for the port city’s role in the trade of enslaved peoples.
The Post and Courier reports that city council members heard pleas for an official apology from many Black faith leaders and activists before voting 7-5 to issue an official apology. The resolution recognizes the fact that the city’s economic vitality depended on “more than 15.5 million Indigenous Peoples and Africans” who built the city’s infrastructure and culture (including cuisine and arts) while enslaved. It also acknowledges the history of anti-Black oppression after the legal abolition of slavery, right up to the massacre of nine Black members of the city’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church by White supremacist Dylann Roof in 2015.
“The world is looking,” council member William Dudley Gregorie, one of the architects of the resolution, told The Post and Courier. “This document…apologizes for the atrocities of the past.”
“And what reminds us of that is what’s going on right now with Brown children who are being torn from their parents and put in detention camps,” Gregorie noted during the public comment period, as quoted by Charleston City Paper. “I hope you heard me, and it sounds familiar. Very familiar.”
One of the five “no” votes came from another Black city council member, Keith Waring, who said he couldn’t support the resolution “without economic empowerment” measures. The resolution includes unspecified commitments to improving public education in the city—which the Census most recently estimated is 23.2 percent Black—and civic initiatives to promote the history of the city’s Black community. It also pledged to encourage racial harmony through projects “such as the creation of an office of racial reconciliation.”
This resolution is the latest attempt by local leaders to address the role of enslavement in Charleston’s history and economy. Council members previously debated adding a plaque to a statue of John C. Calhoun that explained his support for enslavement of African Americans. In addition, in 2020, the International African American Museum is slated to open on Gadsden’s Wharf—the port where an estimated 40 percent of all enslaved Africans entered the former colonies between 1770 and 1775.