My friend Kiki and I arrived in Charleston a sunny, steamy Saturday morning, after flying a red-eye from Seattle. We ate a brunch of mimosas and gravy biscuits, asking our server where the best barbeque in town was. Carolinians take their barbeque very seriously and we got schooled in the difference between North and South Carolina barbeque sauces.
Our first tourist stop was Ft. Sumter National Park, the opening scene of the Civil War. As we drove down Calhoun Street I looked to my left and noticed an A.M.E. church. I had no idea it was of historic significance, that it was a church founded by Denmark Vesey, who planned a slave revolt in 1822. I knew none of that then, I merely acknowledged it because there is an A.M.E. church in my neighborhood in Seattle.
Three weeks after our drive down Calhoun Street, nine upstanding members of Charleston society were shot during a bible study at that the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The killer was a deranged boy, fueled with racial hatred and a gun.
South Carolina was the first state to succeed from the Union in 1861, in order to protect the rights of its slave-owning citizens. It was at St. Sumter where the first shots of the Civil War conflict were fired. On our boat ride to the fort, which stands proudly at the mouth of the Charleston River, the recorded narrative referred to the Civil War as the “War of Southern Independence.” We laughed, thinking about history in terms of different perspectives. History books are not always written by the winners.
This week marked the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves.
Our country has a long history of racial violence, from slavery that built the South to the genocide that killed most Native Americans and won the West. Racism is a part of our history. So are guns. As race-related violence and mass shootings are both increasing, now seems like the time to open up a dialog about our dark past, about what racism is and how we address it. Timothy Egan, in a June 19th Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, (Apologize for Slavery) calls for a formal apology from the U.S. government for slavery. I think this would be an excellent way to begin that dialog.