On Nov. 2, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National African American Reparations Commission (NAARC) hosted a forum in the Gaillard Center to discuss reparations for the enslavement of Africans and its legacy.
The forum is the second in a series aimed at furthering the passage of House Bill H.R. 40, sponsored by Texas Representative Sheila Jackson Lee. If passed, the bill would establish the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans.
"The commission shall examine slavery and discrimination in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present and recommend appropriate remedies," according to the bill summary. Among other things, the commission will also analyze the lingering effects of slavery on modern African-Americans and society.
Various speakers, including Ade Ofunnuyi, founder and director of the Gullah Society, and attorney Nkechi Taifa publicly dissected the need for reparations in the United States.
Taifa also spoke in a panel discussion, facilitated by Ron Daniels.
Panelist Millicent Brown commented that reparations are "not a joke"
"Reparations is a way to grapple how it will be done, when it will be done. At 20, I certainly didn't know, but I took it seriously," said Millicent Brown, a panelist and retired professor of U.S. and African-American history. "I was laughed at, we were laughed at, and my thought today is to say, 'Please, ladies and gentlemen of whatever age. This is not a joke. Don't dismiss what we're talking about today as impossible.'"
"We are really ready to confront how is it we are going to make this nation hold itself accountable for the inhumanity that I don't anybody in this room believes was ever justified or can be corrected," Brown added.
The forum on Nov. 2 was a follow-up to a similar meeting in Washington, D.C. on Juneteenth, held immediately after a congressional hearing on reparations.
Charleston was chosen for the second forum, according to the ACLU, because of its deep history with slavery and African-American institutions. Rep. Lee made mention of this in a video statement presented at the forum.
"You are here to engage in this powerful discussion in a historic city that's certainly experienced the holding of the descendants of enslaved Africans and enslaved history that you possess," she said. "And the fact that you know your history, that South Carolina is so much a part of the history, so much a place to hold this important discussion, because of your stakeholdership, your knowledge, your citizenry who live through their ancestors.
Gadsden's Wharf, in Charleston, was the entrance point for approximately 40 percent of enslaved Africans during the American slave trade. Prior to the 1860s, Charleston was a hub for cash crops provided by enslaved labor. The descendants of the enslaved created the historic Gullah Geechee community, which resides partially in the Lowcountry.
In June of last year, Charleston City Council adopted a resolution officially apologizing for its role in the institution of slavery. A monument to former Vice President John C. Calhoun, whose fervent pro-slavery rhetoric as a nullifier helped lay the groundwork for the Confederacy, still stands high in Marion Square.