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O My America: Let Me Tell You About Charleston

June 19, 2015

tweet-611625532602486784-2Here’s what I learned last year at the Old Slave Market Museum in Charleston, South Carolina:

  • Of the 500,000 Africans kidnapped to the U.S. before the slave trade was abolished, 40 percent came through the port of Charleston.
  • Of the fifteen Americans who owned more than 500 slaves before the Civil War, eight lived in Charleston.
  • When Fort Sumter was fired upon by Confederates in Charleston’s harbor to start the Civil War, more than half of Charleston’s population was enslaved.
  • More than 250 slave insurrections took place in South Carolina alone.

And here’s what I learned in the rest of Charleston:

  • If you take a carriage tour of the fancy downtown tourist part of Charleston, they’ll show you all the planters’ fancy homes but they won’t mention slavery. Not once in 90 minutes.
  • If you drive just a few blocks out of that fancy zone, north past “Line Street,” you’ll come upon the black neighborhood of Charleston, where the houses are small and ramshackle, the sidewalks run out, the streets are rutted, and everybody looks poor.
  • Charleston is the second largest city in South Carolina after Columbia, the capital, which still flies the Confederate Flag near its Republican-ruled statehouse. South Carolina is the ninth poorest state in the U.S., with 18 percent of the population living in poverty, including 27.3 percent of children, and a median household income of $23,906 in 2012 (African-American median was $15,398, and Hispanic median was $13,681).
  • South Carolina has no hate-crimes legislation on its books.
  • Nine African-Americans, ranging in age from 26 to 87, were just gunned down by a young racist white while discussing the Bible in their church.

Lawrence Bush edits Jewish Currents.