Charleston City Council voted 9-4 Wednesday night to establish a permanent Human Affairs and Racial Conciliation Commission. The action followed months of controversy that almost sideswiped the effort to proactively deal with the remnants of generational racism.

The newly approved commission will seek to promote equity, inclusion and racial conciliation in Charleston through meetings, presentations and research as well as assist in implementing recommendations from Mayor John Tecklenburg and City Council through standing committees, according to one of a number of accepted amendments by Councilman Peter Shahid.

In December, council approved the first reading of the proposal, which was first brought to the table in August 2021. A second reading was deferred Jan. 26 by a 7-5 vote, with opposition citing the lack of clarity for the commission’s purpose, reach and formation. 

The new amendments by Shahid sought to clarify these, establishing a means for committee appointments among other guidelines. The amendments also state clearly that it would not seek to pursue controversial measures, such as defunding police, teaching critical race theory or encouraging slave reparations. Even without these measures, Shahid said, the commission would serve to address inequities in wealth, health care and more between Black and white residents of Charleston.  

“We have an opportunity tonight for 13 voices to come together and support what I just said is a great disparity in our community,” Shahid said ahead of the vote. “You can’t deny these facts; you can’t ignore these facts. If you want to be serious about addressing disparity in our community, if you want to take to heart the issues that have the greatest impact of destroying this community, every one of us … have the opportunity stand up … and say, ‘I want to be a part of the solution.’”

Eight council members who voted with Shahid in favor of the commission were Ross Appel, Jason Sakran, William Gregorie, Keith Waring, Robert Mitchell, Karl Brady, Stephen Bowden and Tecklenburg. Council members Mike Seekings, Boyd Gregg, Kevin Shealy and Caroline Parker voted against the commission.

Parker, who was elected to her position in November, proposed a number of amendments to the proposal, including defining critical race theory in part as “relegating U.S. history to a struggle between two groups: oppressors and the oppressed.” No amendment proposed by Parker was accepted by council. 

Help the City Paper keep delivering excellence

Winner of top 2021 state journalism honors (best editorial writing and best cartoon), the Charleston City Paper brings you the Best of Charleston every day. Support our “unafraid” journalism with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.