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Commentary: The cycle of destroying African American communities must stop

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We were not given this land. We worked and toiled for the Phillips community.

Here is yet another example of an African American settlement community being held in the balance by governing municipalities.

Alternative 1 for the expansion of S.C. Highway 41 will not be the answer for growth and opportunity, but it instead will lead to the dispersal and dismay of heirs, who are descendants of slaves, in the Phillips community.

Charleston County as a whole has a history of carelessness with settlement communities of African American people while working to maintain the beauty of communities that are not full of African American culture. The cycle must stop now.

Consider the differences between how the Phillips community and the nearby Old Village have been treated.

The Old Village Historic District of Mount Pleasant was registered on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, which enables the area to promote its beautification, conservation and education within the community. Seen as a commercial hub by many, the Old Village supported the community through its work with mills and commercial fishing.

According to the town of Mount Pleasant’s website: "The purpose of this historical district is to protect, preserve, and enhance the architecture of Old Village and to encourage harmonious growth and development. Other goals include promoting the use and preservation of the seven-mile historic district for the education and welfare of town residents, while also, encouraging civic pride."

The notable difference between the Old Village and the Phillips community is that one is primarily white and is protected by its historical status, and the other has a larger African American population and few historical protections. One is also in the town; the other in the county.

The Phillips community, which Highway 41 passes through, demands to have the same historical protection status as its neighboring communities.

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When the first census was taken in 1790, 75% of what was to become Mount Pleasant was African American; recent data reflect a much smaller population of 7.2%. The difference has come about not because African Americans in settlement communities such as Phillips have left for a better quality of life, as some Charleston County officials have suggested, but because they have been taxed out.

The quality of life in many settlement communities declined as they were annexed and were subject to different regulations, taxes and zoning requirements, or the development of residential neighborhoods for financial gain.

The proposal to widen Highway 41 through the Phillips community isn't the first such proposal to create  contention for settlement communities.

In 1999, residents of Seven Mile objected to the construction of a proposed access road from U.S. Highway 17 to Hamlin. This followed the 1998 objections of Six Mile residents to plans for widening Rifle Range Road to three lanes. Six Mile and Seven Mile are historically African American communities.

Water’s Edge subdivision residents opposed the alignment of U.S. 17 and its impact on wetlands near the subdivision. Sweetgrass subdivision residents also have expressed concern about the widening of the U.S. 17 access road. 

Consistently, settlement communities with a strong population of African Americans have been viewed as cheaper options for highways and construction in general. But a price cannot be set on our quality of life or land compared to other communities.

Land that was once viewed as uninhabitable, obsolete, bare and unwanted is owned by the descendants of slaves and heirs. The Phillips community, which is full of rich culture, language, food, art and sweetgrass baskets, is asking you to stand with us against this highway scheme that would, once again, take away what was rightfully earned by our community.

Please sign our petition at bit.ly/StopAlternative1 and send your opposition requests to Charleston County officials.

Parris Jackson is a business owner with experience in the mortgage industry; she holds a degree in public health from the University of South Carolina. Jacquelyn Rouse Jackson grew up in the Phillips community; she is an Army veteran and owner of My Mother's Keeper, a home away from home for the elderly.

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