Charleston in Black and White: Race and Power in the South after the Civil Rights Movement

Charleston in Black and White: Race and Power in the South after the Civil Rights Movement

Charleston in Black and White: Race and Power in the South after the Civil Rights Movement

Charleston in Black and White: Race and Power in the South after the Civil Rights Movement

Synopsis

Once one of the wealthiest cities in America, Charleston, South Carolina, established a society built on the racial hierarchies of slavery and segregation. By the 1970s, the legal structures behind these racial divisions had broken down and the wealth built upon them faded. Like many southern cities, Charleston had to construct a new public image. In this important book, Steve Estes chronicles the rise and fall of black political empowerment and examines the ways Charleston responded to the civil rights movement, embracing some changes and resisting others.

Based on detailed archival research and more than fifty oral history interviews, Charleston in Black and White addresses the complex roles played not only by race but also by politics, labor relations, criminal justice, education, religion, tourism, economics, and the military in shaping a modern southern city. Despite the advances and opportunities that have come to the city since the 1960s, Charleston (like much of the South) has not fully reckoned with its troubled racial past, which still influences the present and will continue to shape the future.

Excerpt

Historically somewhat isolated from metropolitan Charleston, residents of the Sea Islands along the Lowcountry coastline were in the vanguard of numerous eras in the region’s storied past. Plantations on the islands and up the coastal waterways were the foundation of Charleston’s wealth and power before the Civil War. During the war, the Sea Islands were some of the first places that the Union Army captured from the Confederacy, setting up what one historian called a “rehearsal for Reconstruction.” the geographic isolation of these islands and their large black majorities allowed African cultural influences to survive well into the twentieth century. the best example of this was Gullah— a mix of African, European, and American influences that produced a unique creole language and culture. Yet the isolation that protected this vibrant Gullah culture also consigned most Sea Island natives to grinding poverty. Many black Charlestonians had new economic opportunities during and after World War ii, and the city’s paternalistic race relations seemed to ameliorate some of the worst excesses of Jim Crow. in the Sea Islands, however, the combination of extreme poverty and virulent racism from white property owners circumscribed black life as much as the water and wetlands surrounding the islands. a combination of this rich cultural heritage and impoverished economy on the Sea Islands inspired a local civil rights movement that would ultimately feed into the struggle for racial equality in Charleston. That movement culminated in a 1969 hospital workers’ strike, one of the last major direct action campaigns of the civil rights era.

We could understand the Charleston movement and the hospital strike as simply community activism and a labor struggle, but it is also important . . .

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