A Southern Ball….Charleston & Atlanta
With a population of just 20,000 people, Charleston looks and feels more like a cute village than a city. A city built on “old money”…agriculture and cotton, there is now an influx of “new money”, with executives from new production plants of Boeing, BMW, Volvo and others residing here. Walking through the streets, the houses are pretty and colorful…bright red yellow green, blue you name it. Once a city with an African American majority at the height of slavery, the city once again regained its black majority during the Reconstruction era, when many African Americans fled north to escape Jim Crow laws. Wide streets and the small size of the city make this a walkable city…if you can handle the 90 degree+ weather conditions, of course. With an idealic bay, a short ferry ride would take you to explore islands, such as Fort Summer, from which the first shots of the Civil War were fired, and to the warships, especially the majestic USS Lloyd, still the only warship in history to be fully cloned, in an attempt to confuse the Japanese, who had sunk the original boat.
Yet, do not let the architectural prettiness and natural beauty of Charleston fool you from its dark, unfortunate history of human trafficking. Charleston was a hub of slavery, and this history must be remembered and not ignored or forgotten. One of its mot popular and largest streets for tourists, Broad Street, was once the meeting place for slave auctions, where the main attraction, the “Mart” was where black slaves were purchased and sold like cattle, often separating families. Now the “Mart” is the Old Slave Mart Museum which I visited. The experience was depressing but necessary and educational. I learned that of the 12 million West Africans kidnapped into slavery, “only about 250K were actually brought to the United States, with the majority to Central and South America, especially Brazil, chained on ships, with dead bodies from illness malnutrition, or suicide dumped overboard. I looked at actual advertisements of slave auctions, and saw receipts of sale. I learned about chains and branding with hot iron about escapes, rebellions and consequences if caught. I appreciated the abolition movement, slaves joining the Union to fight of freedom, and when each country or state emancipated its slaves. The experience was truly sobering and powerful, rivaling my experiences of the Holocaust Museums in Jerusalem and Washington DC in studying the depths of human cruelty.
What happened to the slaves once they were purchased? They were sent to work on the sugar, rice, but especially cotton plantations. I visited the McLeod Plantation for a couple of reasons; it is one of the few plantations that does NOT hold weddings or corporate events, and the actual offspring of slaves on that plantation are employed there as tour guides themselves. McLeod was a Welsh immigrant an American revolutionary patriot, and one of the staunchest supporters of the Confederacy. He had a white-passing son with his black slave nanny, who was raised as “white. His mansion is about the same size as all 6 of houses of his slaves, 5–13 slaves living per house. The cotton plantation is filled with shady oak trees, the oldest of which is over 300 years old! After emancipation like many plantations, the ex-slaves were originally given the land on the planation only for the federal government under the new directives of President Andrew Johnson reversed this, and the McLeods got ownership of the plantation back.
Unlike Charleston Atlanta cannot feel more different! Where Charleston feels like you are still living in an antebellum town, Atlanta, with its towering highscrapers MARTA trains, malls,and diverse bustling people feels more like the metropolitan city it is. The presence of Covid-19 also feels completely different. In Charleston you might be excused if you assumed that Covid is over, as there are no masks in sight outdoors and at businesses, including employees themselves, with the exception of the Old Slave Mart Museum where they are required. On the other hand, not only are masks required in practically every indoor setting still open but many of the best places, are closed including the CNN Studio Tours, Civil Rights Center, Delta Airlines Museum and all of the revolving restaurants with the best city views. This is likely due to Atlanta being a heavily democratic city (over 80% voted for Joe Biden for POTUS and Warnock and Ossoff for senators), while South Carolina leans heavily Republican. Also, I got the impression that African Americans take the pandemic more seriously (in Atlanta, most of those wearing masks were African American), which makes sense because black people have been disproportionally impacted by the pandemic and also distrust vaccines more (my African American Lyft driver in Charleston refuses to get vaccinated because he’s unsure if he’ll “grow horns in 5 years”.
So, with most things closed what is a guy to do? Enjoy nature, of course! The Botanical Gardens are pretty and a relaxing walk. Close to it, is Piedmont Park, where you could sit on the grass and enjoy the gorgeous views of the city skyline. The zoo is worth checking out, especially as it is one of the few zoos in the world with a panda and a Komodo dragon. Finally, Atlanta is the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement, with Martin Luther King Jr. living there. You can visit his house and stroll through his neighborhood, and then check out morgue, memorial, and church, the same church that current senator Ralph Warnock was the pastor of); it’s definitely worth it!
Of course, the South wouldn’t be the South without good food! Spoil yourself on the delicious steak, the huge burgers and some of the best whiskey an bourbon I’ve ever tasted. If I wasn’t walking so much I might have gained 10 pounds. I’ll definitely be back in Atlanta, where besides the unfinished business of seeing the CNN Studios, Civil Rights Center and delta Museum I definitely plan to spoil myself with fine dining and rotating skyline views! As for Charleston? Beautiful and colorful city, excellent dining, with the unfortunate cloud of its central role dark history of human rights violations always surrounding it. I’ve already seen everything here, so probably not coming back in a while, but who knows?