The city council in what was once a key seaport for slave trade adopted a resolution Tuesday apologizing for slavery.
By voice vote, the Charleston City Council approved the resolution which offers a denouncement of slavery, a promise of tolerance in the future and a proposal for an office of racial reconciliation. The vote came after an hour of public comment followed by nearly two hours of comments from council members, one of whom led to heckling which led Mayor John Tecklenburg to have the chamber cleared.
The vote coincided with "Juneteenth," a celebration of the end of slavery and just two days after the third anniversary of the racist attack by a white man that killed nine black church members.
In expressing support, Councilman William Dudley Gregorie compared slavery and the immigration policy that has resulted in children being separated from their families.
"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," Gregorie said. "It was wrong to enslave people. It was wrong to treat people as property and chattel and sell their children and breakup families, Sound familiar. It's happening today, folks."
Councilmen Harry Joseph Griffin and Perry Waring expressed opposition to the resolution, both saying the city needed to focus on economic development. Waring also accused a member of Tecklenburg's executive staff of pressuring white council members to vote for the resolution or risk being labeled racists.
"That should never be a part of our city government," Waring said. "It's unfair and it's abhorrent."
Griffin said the city needed to make sure the city fixed a flooding program, an accomplishment that he added would make ancestors proud.
"I understand why people are hurt, but . . ." Griffin said before one last interruption from the audience led him to end his remarks.
The vote was full of symbolism. It was taken by a majority-white council that meets in a City Hall built by slaves and was less than a mile (1.5 kilometers) from the old wharf where slave ships unloaded. That site is soon to be the location for a $75 million African-American history museum.
Organizers, including former Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, are trying to raise the millions of additional dollars they will need to break ground this summer and open the museum in 2020. It will be located on the site of the old wharf where slave ships unloaded.
The museum will tell the story of African-Americans in the U.S. from slavery to today. It also will include genealogy resources to help families trace their roots.