Spartanburg City Council acknowledges, apologizes for systemic racism

It’s been a tumultuous month for residents concerned about racial justice in the Wellville community of Spartanburg, South Carolina. It culminated last Monday when the Spartanburg City Council approved unanimously a “Healing, Reconciling and Unity” resolution, acknowledging “the historical antecedents of systemic racism” and apologizing to residents for “racial injustices and long-lasting inequities that have resulted from those policies.”

It all started during an August 24 City Council meeting. Charles Mann, who grew up in the Southside neighborhood of Spartanburg, stood up to request an apology for past Councils’ racist actions, such as ordering the demolition of long-standing Black communities in the name of urban renewal. Mayor Junie White responded, “The only thing I can say is if Spartanburg is so damn bad, I wouldn’t have come back to it.” (After moving away from Spartanburg, Mann had returned to the city to care for his mother.) Mayor White later apologized to Mann for his comment.

There was a second dustup at a Spartanburg County Council meeting a few weeks later, this time regarding an alleged shooting incident between two young Black men and Spartanburg County deputies. In a recorded interview with a local newspaper, Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright said, “We’re not trying to kill anybody, we’re not trying to hurt anybody. We had every opportunity to kill two young black men and we did not do it.” Residents showed up at the September 21 meeting hoping for an apology from Sheriff. It was not forthcoming.

Just one week later, the City Council approved the unprecedented resolution, which also enumerates specific actions Council members will take, including to “promote racial equity through all policies approved by City Council” and “support community efforts to amplify concerns about racist policies and practices.”

Over the past year or two, there has been an energetic community dialogue on the legacy of racism, its current impacts on Spartanburg, and ways of ending it. The City Council’s resolution is just the latest indication that Spartanburg is committed to a better future for itself.