Passing the Resolution to Recognize, Denounce and Apologize for the City of Charleston’s role in slavery on June 19th, the 153rd anniversary of the ending of slavery in the United States, creates an opportunity to begin the healing that can only come from the admission of wrongs. The Social Justice Racial Equity Collaborative, convened by The Sophia Institute, seeks a just, sustainable and thriving community where all people are empowered to fulfill their human potential. After working together for over two years and seeking ways to turn talk into action, the SJRE Collaborative, composed of a seven-member leadership team, four honorary co-chairs, a 29-member council, more than 40 engagement partners and dozens of other collaborators totaling more than 100 community leaders and organizations have acknowledged that the community we seek cannot truly happen without community recognition of wrongs.
The Resolution to Recognize, Denounce and Apologize for the City’s Involvement with Slavery is not an apology by any individual. It’s an apology made on behalf of the city of Charleston for its role in regulating, supporting and fostering slavery and the resulting atrocities inflicted by the institution of slavery. It is a recognition that the prosperity and robust economy of this city began with a dependency upon the free labor, technical expertise and craftsmanship of those peoples who were enslaved.
The idea to seek such a statement from City Council came out of a June 2017 planning retreat of the SJRE Collaborative, formed in 2016 to address the issues of social justice and racial equity in Charleston. An Apology Committee, chaired by Melissa Maddox-Evans, with Darrin Goss, Julie Hussey and Andrea Schenck, benchmarked with other similar government statements and researched to write a draft which reflected Charleston’s experience.
The initial draft was shared and further revised with input by the SJRE Collaborative Leadership Team co-chaired by Barbara Kelley-Duncan and Carolyn Rivers and including Goss, Maddox-Evans, Sandy Morckel, Rev. Nelson B. Rivers III and Henry Smythe, and other community leaders and historians. The SJRE Collaborative shared their document with city staff. During the course of several months, the collaborative revised the final draft that has been placed on the Charleston City Council’s June 19 agenda.
Charleston is not the first public body to issue an apology for slavery. Thirteen years ago, the Southern Baptist Convention made one of the first organizational apologies to African Americans for “defending slavery in the antebellum South and for condoning racism in our lifetime.”
Since then, the states of Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Arkansas, New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware have issued apologies for slavery. Both the U.S. House (2008) and Senate (2009) have apologized for slavery. If successful, Charleston will join the cities of Macon, Georgia, and Annapolis, Maryland, in apologizing for their city government’s role in slavery.
With over 100 community leaders and organizations joining in support of this effort, our faith in our city’s leaders encourages us to believe that there is a desire and willingness to embrace this resolution, not only as a statement and acknowledgement of the challenges of our past but as a commitment to address the challenges we face today and in the future. We believe a more just, sustainable and thriving community for all races can only be created through truth, racial healing and transformation.
The adoption of this resolution will be an historic and healing moment for Charleston and America. We urge City Council’s full support as we continue to work together for a more just and equitable Charleston.
Barbara Kelley-Duncan is co-chair, Carolyn Rivers is co-chair and Melissa Maddox-Evans is a member of the leadership team with the Social Justice Racial Equity Collaborative.