The City of Charleston Apologizes for Its Integral Role in America's Slave Trade

Mordern tourists in Charleston
Mordern tourists in Charleston
Image: AP

The city of Charleston—whose history is intimately entwined with that of America’s slave trade and which owes a good deal of its longstanding prosperity to the practice—has decided to offer an official apology for its crucial role.


The New York Times reported on the resolution, adopted by the the Charleston City Council after two hours of debate, which said straight out: “We hereby denounce and apologize for the wrongs committed against African-Americans by the institution of slavery and Jim Crow, with sincerest sympathies and regrets for the deprivation of life, human dignity and constitutional protections occasioned as a result thereof.”

An estimated 40 percent of enslaved Africans entered America via the port of Charleston, a big business that funded so many of those beautiful antebellum buildings that still draw so many tourists and continue to bring money into the city. The resolution admits that “fundamental to the economy of colonial and antebellum Charleston was slave labor, Charleston prospering as it did due to the expertise, ingenuity and hard labor of enslaved Africans who were forced to endure inhumane working conditions that produced wealth for many, but which was denied to them.”


But an apology is not the same as making restitution, and the Times reported that “some people who spoke during a public comment period and council members who debated the resolution for nearly two hours questioned whether it went far enough to tackle systemic issues.” For instance, Councilman Perry K. Waring said he wanted something more tangible, concluding that, “As a descendant of slaves, I cannot support this resolution.”

Even some who spoke in its support emphasized it was just a first step, however. That’s how it was characterized by the Social Justice Racial Equity Collaborative, a group that pushed for the resolution with councilman William Dudley Gregorie, in an op-ed at The Post and Courier:

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 group said the resolution, “creates an opportunity to begin the healing that can only come from the admission of wrongs.” It’s a start.

Senior Editor, Attic Haunter, Jezebel

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I visited Charleston recently and went to the Old Slave Mart Museum. It is a sobering visit and I learned so much that I did not learn when I took history classes back in the jurassic age. There are also places in town where Charleston acknowledges its slave holding/selling past, including a street corner that was used as an auction block. It’s not hard to find the history. I understand that Charleston has not always been honest about their past, but I appreciate the increased candor now.

At the Old Slave Mart Museum I learned that a town I’d lived in as a child (Newport, RI) owed its early money to slavery. This blew my mind because I’ve never seen this publicly acknowledged and Newport is a pretty history-minded place. Granted, it may have changed and acknowledged it lately but if not? Newport? Get with the program. Admit your past. It’s the first step.