On Tuesday, as Juneteenth—the holiday marking the end of slavery—was observed, the City Council of Charleston, S.C., decided to adopt a resolution apologizing for the city’s role in the slave trade.
The city was once a key seaport in the slave trade, a location where some 40 percent of enslaved people first set foot on American soil.
By voice vote Tuesday, the City Council approved the resolution that denounces slavery and promises a more tolerant future. The resolution also includes a proposal for an office of racial reconciliation, the Associated Press notes.
CNN notes that the two-page resolution is not only an apology but an unflinching acknowledgment of the brutal past that stripped African people of their identities and families.
“The institution of slavery did not just involve physical confinement and mistreatment,” the resolution reads. “It also sought to suppress, if not destroy, the cultural, religious and social values of Africans by stripping Africans of their ancestral names and customs, humiliating and brutalizing them through sexual exploitation, and selling African relatives apart from one another without regard to the connection of family, a human condition universal among all peoples of the world.”
One council member didn’t let the connections to the past and its connection to present-day politics—with the zero tolerance immigration policy that has, again, ripped children from their parents—go unnoticed.
“I do think that as a council, we have an opportunity to make history, not to right wrongs, but to recognize that the seat of the Confederacy was wrong,” Councilman William Dudley Gregorie said in expressing his support for the resolution. “It was wrong to enslave people. It was wrong to treat people as property and chattel and sell their children and break up families. Sound familiar? It’s happening today, folks.”
Two council members—Harry Joseph Griffin and Perry Waring—opposed the resolution, saying that the city needed to focus on economic development. (It’s like these people have never heard of multitasking ... )
Waring accused a member of Mayor John Tecklenburg’s executive staff of pressuring white council members to vote for the resolution or be labeled racist.
“That should never be a part of our city government,” Waring said. “It’s unfair and it’s abhorrent.”
Griffin, meanwhile, argued that the city needed to make sure that it fixed a flooding program, which would make the ancestors proud (which I don’t really get?).
“I understand why people are hurt, but ... ,” Griffin started to say before he was interrupted by the audience.
At any rate, Charleston’s past has been the topic of discussion for quite some time, with Gadsden’s Wharf, the wharf where slave ships were unloaded—located less than a mile away from City Hall—set to become the home of the International African American Museum in 2020.
Organizers, which include former city Mayor Joe Riley, are working to raise additional funds in order to break ground on the museum this summer.
In addition to telling the story of African Americans in the U.S. from slavery to today, the museum will also be the home of the Center for Family History, a national genealogy research center that will be dedicated to researching African-American ancestry.