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Tensions Rise Over Reparations In Clyburn’s Charleston, S. Carolina

Tensions Rise Over Reparations In Clyburn’s Charleston, S. Carolina

Charleston

Tensions Rise Over Reparations In Clyburn’s Charleston, S. Carolina Photo: From left, The Rev. Rose Goodwater, South Carolina State Sen. Darrell Jackson, and Sullivan's Island Mayor Marshall Stith read a marker that was dedicated, July 2, 1999, in Sullivans Island, S.C., outside of Charleston. (AP Photo/Paula Illingworth)

The South Carolina city of Charleston was once the U.S. slave trade capital and historians estimate that at least 40 percent of all enslaved Africans arrived here through its port.

Talk of reparations for slavery is heating up in the city but not the way pro-reparations advocates had hoped. 

The concept of reparations for American descendants of slavery experienced major pushback earlier this month at a Charleston City Council meeting. Members debated 125 recommendations in a report on equity, inclusion and racial conciliation.

Residents and city leaders were tense and divided over the report, which set out to transform Charleston’s government into one that is “actively anti-racist,” The State reported.

The recommendations included a $100-million reparations fund for descendants of slaves and a guaranteed income fund indexed to the cost of living for all Black residents who have lived in Charleston for 10 years or were born in the city. West Ashley resident Brett Barry, who is white and a board member of the American Heritage Association, slammed the recommendations. He called the $100 million fund for reparations “wealth redistribution based on skin color” and said the report was “an extremist agenda thinly veiled under the banner of racial progress.”

Amber Johnson, who is Black and the city’s first-ever manager of diversity, racial reconciliation and tolerance, said, “It is important to remember that financial compensation or the payment of money is not the only form of reparations. Other types include restoring civil and political rights, erasing unfair criminal convictions, physical rehabilitation and granting access to land, health care or education.”

Johnson’s explanation of reparations fell on deaf ears. When it came time for city council members to vote to formally receive the report from the Special Commission on Equity, Inclusion and Racial Conciliation, it failed by a 7-6 vote, The State reported.

“If something is damaged, then it needs repair. It’s that simple,” said Councilman William Gregorie, who is Black, when asked about his thoughts on reparations. “Charleston — and this state — must lead this fight. We have to lead the fight because we led in the oppression of a people.”

While some politicians in South Carolina are pushing for reparations, some have complained that a key state representative in Washington, D.C. isn’t doing much. Rep. James Cylburn has been called out publicly for not doing more to promote reparations on a federal level. He admitted during a recent town hall meeting that he had not heard of ADOS when he was pressed on his thoughts about reparations. 

Clyburn is the Majority Whip and the third-ranking Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives. He previously served in the post from 2007 to 2011 and was the assistant Democratic leader from 2011 to 2019.

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Some praise Clyburn for the progress the Congressional Black Caucus member has made.

Columnist Lynn Schmidt called Clyburn the “voter whisperer” in an opinion piece in Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

“When Democrats listen to Clyburn, they tend to win,” she wrote, citing Clyburn’s efforts in getting Joe Biden elected president.

“Clyburn almost single-handedly changed the trajectory of the 2020 presidential election after he endorsed then-candidate Joe Biden ahead of the South Carolina primary in February 2020,” Schmidt wrote. “Following that endorsement and Biden’s win in the South Carolina primary, the former vice president surged past Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and eventually won the Democratic nomination.”