Barbados settlers who founded the Carolina Colony in 1670 sailed from the quaint town of Speightstown north of Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados. An exhibit on Charleston is in Speightstown’s Arlington House Museum. | Photo by Herb Frazier

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg will lead a local business group to Barbados in October for talks on trade, cultural exchanges and climate change. Last year, the Caribbean nation with deep historical ties to Charleston cut its remaining governing links with England.

At least 75 people are expected to travel with the mayor on Oct. 12 for a seven-day trip organized by the Barbados and the Carolinas Legacy Foundation. Rhoda Green, the foundation’s president and CEO and Barbados’ honorary consul to South Carolina, has taken groups to the island before to discuss the historic and cultural ties between the state and Barbados. This will be the first tour that includes business development and climate change.

Barbados became a republic in November 2021 when it removed Queen Elizabeth as the head of state on the 55th anniversary of the nation’s independence from England. 

“I really respect the new independence of the Barbadian government,” Tecklenburg told the City Paper. “From an economic development side of things, we have the natural hospitality link between the two economies” and more can be done with Barbados, he said.

Rudy Grant, Barbados’ consul general to Miami, said Tecklenburg’s visit “is important in the context of strengthening the relationship between Charleston and Barbados as well as to identify how we can exploit available opportunities for trade, commerce and culture. Our historical linkage, although forged out of colonial exploitation of an enslaved people, provides the solid foundation for us to deepen our bonds of friendship and cooperation.”

Some of the most immediate actions as result of the visit by the mayor and other Charlestonians, Grant said, might be the development of a medical cannabis industry in Barbados and improving the country’s treatment and rehabilitation of sea turtles through a collaboration with the Barbados Sea Turtle Project and the South Carolina Aquarium. He also said early talks have identified a possible relationship with Charleston’s International African American Museum, which is scheduled to open in January 2023. 

“Barbados is developing a Heritage District, which will include a museum and a research institute,” he said. “This district is being constructed next to the Newton Enslaved Burial Ground Memorial, which is the largest and earliest known burial ground in Barbados with the remains of hundreds of enslaved African men, women and children. This history and experience allows for the museum practitioners in Charleston and Barbados to explore how collaboration can be beneficial to both entities.”

Tecklenburg said he also wants to strengthen Charleston’s existing sister city relationship with Speightstown, a town on the west coast of Barbados. Settlers from Barbados who established the Carolina Colony in 1670 launched that expedition from Speightstown. In November 1997 when Joseph P. Riley Jr. was Charleston’s mayor, the city entered into a sister city relationship with Speightstown.

“This year is 25 years that the Charleston/Speightstown Twin City Agreement has been in place,” Grant said. “This silver anniversary demonstrates that the partnership between these two cities is strong. The presence of Mayor Tecklenburg for such an occasion signals the importance of maintaining our partnership.”

Environmental , economic challenges on agenda, too

Climate change and sea level rise are also on the agenda. 

“Barbados being an island nation and we are a coastal city. We have many things in common,” said the mayor, who noted he’s using his personal money to pay his travel expenses. “In today’s world, it’s climate change and protection from rising waters and more extreme weather. We share that, and I hope to have some conversations about that.”

Grant and Tecklenburg met recently in Charleston. Grant said Barbados’ Prime Minister Mia Mottley and Tecklenburg “have demonstrated their commitment to engage in the required actions to confront the climate change issues. Both Charleston and Barbados have been impacted by natural disasters such as hurricanes, which can be more devastating if the issues related to climate change are not addressed in a meaningful and timely manner.”

Barbados and South Carolina are two former plantation societies, Green added, that “became wealthy through enslavement, toil and oppression of enslaved Africans. Sugar cane in Barbados and rice in South Carolina were the profitable crops that enabled productive economies that yielded great wealth.” Barbados served as England’s economic model to build the economies in other Caribbean colonies.

The October coming trip to Barbados, she said, creates an opportunity to “redesign that ancient economic model. Barbados understands and accepts its role as a new republic and accepts the challenges of retrofitting the obsolete model for (the) present. I see an opportunity for us, as descendants of enslaved people, to revisit that model and retool it to function in a space where we are now seeking to have our voices heard and looking for opportunities to develop businesses and use our skills.”

Charleston attorney Dwayne Green is a member of the foundation’s board and Green’s son. 

“I am extremely proud to see my mother’s life-time passion come to this milestone,” he said. “I am very thankful for the city’s embrace of its Bajan connection and thankful for the opportunity to contribute to this important work. What’s most exciting for me is to see an economic development and environmental component added to the cultural and historical ties.”

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