CHARLESTON—History was made on Tuesday June 19 when the Charleston City Council voted 7-5 to pass a resolution formally apologizing for the city’s role in supporting slavery. The vote came after several hours of passionate public comment and discussion among council members.
Charleston was at the center of the antebellum slave trade in the United States. About 40 percent of all slaves — 100,000 people — entered the country through the city’s port.
Along with the apology, the resolution calls for some concrete actions to improve race relations in Charleston, including the creation of an office of racial reconciliation to help deal with racial disparities and cases of discrimination in the city.
The two-page resolution was initially proposed by Councilman William Dudley Gregorie.
It acknowledges the role that slavery played in brutalizing enslaved Africans, stripping them of their culture and identity, and separating families.
The resolution also calls for memorializing unmarked graves of African-Americans and enslaved Africans, improving public schools and developing policies that will prompt businesses to work for racial equality in health care, wages and housing.
Leaders from the Catholic Diocese of Charleston applauded the resolution and said it was an important first step in dealing with the long history of slavery and racial discrimination in South Carolina.
Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone released a statement in support of the resolution.
“Jesus loved, accepted and embraced all people,” he said. “Their race, gender or nationality never mattered to Him. Our African American brothers and sisters have suffered greatly because of slavery and Jim Crow laws. This apology is an important step in healing wounds that are still evident, even today.”
Msgr. D. Anthony Droze, vicar general for the Diocese of Charleston, attended the meeting and said it was a riveting experience. He said it was important that people on both sides of the issue were able to weigh in with their opinions.
He was part of a packed gallery of onlookers that included local business owners, artists, religious leaders and residents from all different sections of the city. During the meeting, members of city council gave detailed reasons why they were voting for or against the proposed resolution.
Msgr. Droze said the resolution is an important first step, but it will only be effective if city leaders follow through in working to eliminate discrimination.
“Follow up is essential if this resolution is to have any long-standing impact,” he said. “Diversity in the workplace especially has to be a component of any practical response.”
Kathleen Merritt, director of the diocesan office of ethnic ministries, praised the resolution.
“When I read it, I felt a sense of some healing because the words of it seemed so sincere,” Merritt said. “There has been a lot of hurt in South Carolina, and I saw some healing in that document. It is important for Charleston to take this step.”
All photos, Doug Deas/Miscellany
Top photo, Council members, including William Dudley Gregorie (center), who authored the resolution, debate its passage.