When the founders of our nation declared independence from Great Britain in 1776, they wrote “all men are created equal.” But back then, that really didn’t mean everybody. “Men” essentially included white property owners.  It excluded the majority of colonists, such as women and Black people who slaved in South Carolina’s fields to tame forests and build our state.  

Through the decades in American society, just who got a seat at the table — who was considered equal — fueled continuing internal strife as the country pushed from theoretical equality to actual equity. For people of African descent across America, it’s been a long struggle: generations of enslavement, followed by the terror of Jim Crow laws and segregation, followed by civil rights struggles that led to the long-dreamed reality of basic democratic rights that prohibited discrimination, desegregated schools and guaranteed the right to vote for all.

So it’s kind of hard to figure out why it took the City of Charleston so long to approve a permanent commission on human affairs and racial concilation to promote “equity, inclusion and racial conciliation.” But after months of work, city leaders voted 8-4 last week to approve this permanent commission to advise it on ways to “eliminate the vestiges of Jim Crow and slavery in our city.” Thank you.

Hats off to Mayor John Tecklenburg and seven council members who voted for the advisory commission: Ross Appel, Stephen Bowden, Karl Brady, William Dudley Gregorie, Robert Mitchell, Jason Sakran and Keith Waring. You sent a clear message that Charlestonians, sometimes  considered the most polite of Americans, should place equity and inclusion at the heart of how we treat each other, publicly and privately. We hope other local governments in South Carolina will follow Charleston’s lead by adopting their own racial conciliation commissions to promote equity and inclusion broadly.

For those who opposed the new commission — veteran council members Mike Seekings and Kevin Shealy and newcomers Boyd Gregg and Caroline Parker — we hope the vote will serve as a wake-up call to explore why this issue is so important to so many, particularly those whose families have long been left out of the power structure. Recognize that many of the remaining inequities in South Carolina today were built on the backs of free labor. Slavery’s legacy is still felt today as people of African descent woefully lag white residents when it comes to favorable outcomes in health, education and personal wealth.

The city’s new racial conciliation commission represents an opportunity for our city to root out ways where it may not be fair for all. It offers a path to bring people together. Despite partisan rhetoric made for television and headlines, the commission is not about so-called “critical race theory” or reparations or defunding police. Those are nothing but divisive think-tank talking points disingenuously designed to distract attention from what matters — treating all Charlestonians the same. If you can’t support that, maybe you shouldn’t be in public service.

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