Charleston, South Carolina, where nearly half of all enslaved Africans stepped foot in the United States for the first time, has apologized for its role in slavery.
In a 7-5 vote, the Charleston City Council on Tuesday approved a resolution that denounces slavery, calls for more tolerance in the future and proposes the creation of an office for racial reconciliation.
During antebellum America, Charleston was a crucial part of the slave trade. Nearly 40 percent of enslaved people brought into the country passed through Charleston before they were sold, according to the resolution. Charleston “flourished in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries from a robust economy, made possible by the labor of enslaved people,” the resolution said.
The passage was preceded by two hours of heated debate.
Council member Perry Waring, who voted against the resolution, said he did not think that the resolution addressed the city’s current economic issues.
“We need to work on the economic side of things so our community can go forth together in harmony and financially,” Waring said.
Council member Harry Griffin echoed Waring’s calls to focus on relevant modern issues and said that his constituents did not feel the need to apologize for something they did not partake in.
“What’s going to make our ancestors more proud? This piece of paper or fixing flooding on Huger Street?” Griffin said.
Although the resolution says it supports fair wages and racial equality in all of the city’s businesses and organizations, it does not include specific measures to achieve those goals.
Dot Scott, the president of the Charleston NAACP, said that the resolution was a “long overdue gesture,” but now the city must deal with real problems that minorities face today.
“I do think it’s meaningful, but I don’t think it’s a fix-all,” Scott told HuffPost. “Everything we’re dealing with — education, employment, housing, interacting with law enforcement, even health care — there’s much to be done.”
Scott also pointed to the issue of gentrification in Charleston peninsula.
“We had businesses owned by minorities up and down Charleston that no longer exist,” Scott said. “I think that’s something that’s really critical — economic wealth is probably close to zero for the minority community in a city that is as rich as Charleston.”
Council member William Dudley Gregorie, who spearheaded the resolution, said he hopes other cities take meaningful action as well.
“I think it’s overdue that we denounce and apologize for slavery, and I don’t think people should take this as an individual apology,” Gregorie said. “This is an apology from a city that is or was the seat of the Confederacy.”
Virginia and Maryland issued an apology for slavery in 2007, and Delaware did the same in 2016. The U.S. House of Representatives apologized in 2008, and the U.S. Senate followed suit in 2009.
The council passed the resolution on the same day as Juneteenth, which celebrates the abolishment of slavery in the United States.