“PBS Newshour” sat down Thursday with a secessionist and a black nationalist from Charleston, South Carolina, who joined together to open dialogue between their two communities in the wake of the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Johnathan Thrower of the Charleston Black Nationalist Movement, who also goes by the name Shakem Amen Akhet, held a joint press conference with James Bessenger, chairman of the South Carolina Secessionist Party, earlier this week to announce the two groups with very little in common had come together to pledge nonviolence.
They created “The Charleston Accord,” a document aimed at preventing what happened in Charlottesville from occurring in Charleston. While acknowledging they remain on opposite sides of many issues, they told ”PBS Newshour” the accord promises to encourage open communication, prevent violence, promote legal avenues for change and collaborate for the public good when possible.
In the interview above, Thrower told “PBS Newshour” that racial tensions are “at a boiling point” in Charleston, and things have been on a steady decline since 2015, when Dylann Roof killed nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and former South Carolina police officer Michael Slager killed 50-year-old Walter Scott, an unarmed black man.
“It’s really hard when I look at a white person with a Confederate flag, it brings up a lot of emotion. That brings images of the enemy,” Thrower said. “In spite of the fact that all of them aren’t Klansmen and aren’t KKK members, it’s still something ... that really took me a moment to get over.”
“Charleston has every bit of potential to become the next Charlottesville,” Bessenger told Charleston’s Post & Courier.
But the two leaders decided to extend a hand toward peace to avoid violence. Bessenger told “PBS Newshour” that he has more in common with Thrower than he does with some of the people with more extreme views who would criticize him for opening up dialogue.
“What we want to do is show that we can have intelligent discourse amongst each other without violence,” Thrower told the Post & Courier. “We can be civil in our actions and still be able to disagree man to man.”
Watch the full interview in the video above.