Here’s what I wrote in my journal at the airport leaving Charleston, SC:
The remnants of the Old South linger over Charleston — less like a bad dream to be forgotten, and more like a mist over this very world where you can turn the corner on a cobblestone street lined with gas lamps and peer into the past, but for a second.
Slavery and secession happened here. The city doesn’t forget it, I’ll give them that. Carriage tours lilt by full of tourists tracing the steps of slave revolts and Union dissolution. And yet there is an undeniable charm to Charleston, it’s subtropic sunset illuminates intricate colonial ironworks that front the facades of palatial estates of slave owners and their sympathizers.
There is a sweet simplicity to this place that you can start to understand what the South thought they were fighting for. It feels like a different country, a potential seat of power in a tropical empire.
And yet the fingerprints of the enslaved are everywhere. The bricks that baked in the antebellum sun secure their stories waiting to be told by us and generations hereafter.
What must it have been like to be black in old Charleston, ruled over by a regal white minority? Even now I can feel the old electricity of ancient tensions. The statue of Calhoun still stands proudly in the square, and black boys sling sundries on the corner.
Is the South more at peace with race because of that great confrontation and that stain upon their history? Is it easier to feel shame when you are required to be aware of it. Race is no less an issue in Detroit, and yet we have not had to confront it head on, so it lingers under a porous surface like a poison.