In a time where race relations are almost as hostile as decades past, Charleston, S.C., where the horrific mass killing of nine black parishioners at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church took place, has taken steps to move forward and heal from its painful history.
ABC News reports that on Tuesday (June 19), the port city has officially approved a resolution to denounce and make amends for its role in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade that was supported by many of its former lawmakers at that time. The 12 city council members voted 7-5 for the symbolic resolution that evening as it coincides with Juneteenth, the annual African-American holiday honoring the anniversary of the day slavery ended in the United States.
Historically, around 40 percent of the Africans who were mercilessly kidnapped and shipped to the United States to be sold into slavery first landed on American soil in this port city. Prior to the American Civil War, slaves made up the majority of its population, according to the International African American Museum which also added that 80 percent of African-Americans can more than likely trace their roots back to Charleston.
“This is the modern city council which feels the need to make an apology for the institution of slavery in the city of Charleston,” Councilman William Dudley Gregorie, said to ABC News.
“The vestiges of slavery still plague us today,” Gregorie added in a statement to CNN affiliate WCBD. “Either way, up or down, it will show the world — it will give the world a barometer of where we stand as a city in the 21st century as it relates to racial reconciliation.”
The bipartisan resolution goes beyond a merely written apology as it also acknowledges the impactful, long-lasting, and severe damages done to Africans and their respective cultures as they were forcibly brought to the United States for cattle slavery.
“The institution of slavery did not just involve physical confinement and mistreatment,” it reads. “It also sought to suppress, if not destroy, the cultural, religious and social values of Africans by stripping Africans of their ancestral names and customs, humiliating and brutalizing them through sexual exploitation, and selling African relatives apart from one another without regard to the connection of family, a human condition universal among all peoples of the world.”
It goes on to address how slave labor translated into the economic success of colonial and antebellum Charleston (formerly Charles Town) financially flourished “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.”
Some elected officials argue that the bill has “no substance” as Councilman Keith Waring tells CNN that he was against voting for it that night, though it is uncertain whether he eventually did so or not. “If we vote for it today, how are we going to be better off tomorrow or the next day?” Waring said. “Without a substantive change in policy, the proposal is hollow.”
Still, Gregorie believes the bill is one of the necessary steps to turn something horrifically painful into something remarkable.
“We’re trying to turn our pain into something positive,” Gregorie told ABC News, adding that he is still not over the heartbreaking tragedy that took place at the church where he serves as a trustee. “We recognize that people apologize by the way they live and they’ve given individually; it’s not as if people haven’t been apologizing through action.”
“This is the institution doing its part,” he added. The resolution comes not too long after the three year anniversary of the Charleston Massacre that took place on June 17, 2015.