Gentrification Displaces Black Residents in the City of Charleston, South Carolina

Gentrification Displaces Black Residents In the City of Charleston, South Carolina

I Was born in Charleston, South Carolina, and upon returning to Charleston in 2011,  I realized that the East side of town, which was predominantly black, is now occupied by a large percentage of white residents.,

I wondered what had happened to all of the black folks who owned or rented homes downtown.  Where do those displaced by whites now live?  Do they still live near the city?  Are they prospering and benefiting financially from the influx of tourism into the city, in ways other than working as housekeepers, bellmen, and servers in downtown hotels?

The look of downtown Charleston is totally different now since many of the homes have either been gutted and rebuilt, replaced by new construction, or renovated.  With structural upgrades, the fair market value of homes in areas once considered “poor and bad areas to live in,” or the ghetto, has increased with the presence of white residents, making it difficult for many blacks to continue to rent in the city, or to pay the higher taxes.

The City of Charleston has progressively grown in population and in the amount of businesses represented in the city.  Lower King Street has awakened from the dead with its streets lined with bars, restaurants, and the construction of the new hotels.  With the construction of new hotels on King street, businesses located on King Street will draw tourists who want the convenience of lodging in the heart of the city where the nightlife kicks off.

My question is, what is the percentage of blacks that have benefited from this economic growth? While the bold and vibrant colors painted on the renovated and newly constructed homes stand out as a proud representation of our community.  Do visitors to our city have the choice of patronizing a racially diverse group of business owners who represent the community?

People native to Charleston who drive down streets like Huger Street, where I once lived, near Stuart Street, or Reid, Lee, and America Streets are no doubt as amazed as I am to see that once dilapidated houses in those areas have gotten a face lift.  While driving on the cross-town, visitors to the city see the beautiful colors of the houses off Carolina Street which draws attention to that neighborhood in an inviting manner, and people are relocating to Charleston in large numbers.

Because of the influx of people moving here, blacks who once lived on the East side of town, in homes that are within walking distance to schools, the aquarium, and government organizations, appear less in number while the population of whites walking downtown to work and entertainment and riding their bikes along bike paths, has increased.

Whites are now the predominant occupants of neighborhoods that were once stereotyped as “bad areas” to live in and ones labeled unsafe for them to walk in alone, especially at night.  But now you see whites walking in those once stereotyped “bad areas” all the time…and at night!  Those neighborhoods are now apparently safer since black residents have been replaced by a majority white presence.

It is apparent that blacks are not prospering to a degree that they can afford to remain living in their neighborhoods once white people began to move in, and it appears that they are being pushed further North.  And blacks who have moved to the north area in locations that are considered run down and unsafe to travel by whites will be able to live in those areas until those neighborhoods are needed for the continued influx of new residents to Charleston.  It is already the case that white folks not able to live in the tightly meshed downtown area have begun to migrate North of the city.

I had hoped to see more integration in neighborhoods where blacks lived in the downtown area instead of gentrification.  There are black folks who had worked and lived downtown for the majority of their lives, and they still did not earn incomes comparable to whites on a large scale that afforded them the right to remain in those residences.

Because of income disparities, it places them in a position in which they can’t afford to remain in their neighborhoods with an influx of rents and taxes.  Unfortunately the growth that is taking place in Charleston is a story much like that of Harlem and the forced plight of blacks once Bill Clinton moved there.

The City of Charleston has grown into a City where more and more tourists are visiting from around the world, and that is an honor.  For the past three years the city has been the Conde Nast Traveler’s top tourist destination.  Not only is it an honor for the city, but for its mayor as well.   Mayor Riley is a fine person, but other than affordable housing for people relocating to this area, because many people who are from Charleston do not make enough to afford the affordable housing, the question remains.

Are black people being given an opportunity to earn a fair share of the economic pie?  Are black business owners given a fair opportunity to compete with white business owners?  Are they able to secure loans in which they can open businesses in key areas downtown where tourists frequent?

Other than Taxi Cab Drivers, what is the percentage of black owned businesses in the downtown area in view of tourist traffic?  How many bars are black owned?  How many hotels?  How many black owned restaurants are on East Bay Street?  How many black owned businesses are on Market Street?

It is unfortunate that blacks by large are not in a position to benefit financially through business ventures and the ownership of businesses in key geographical locations in the City of Charleston where an influx of tourism into the city produces wealth.  While there are a minority of blacks doing well financially in the City, blacks as a majority work minimum wage, or slightly above minimum wage type jobs.

Being the great historic city that Charleston is, it is unfortunate that little has changed over time when considering the distribution of wealth for blacks as compared to whites.  Is it the case that there a few blacks hand picked to represent the City, or is there a fair opportunity for inclusion?

I once drove a taxi in the City of Charleston and I would hear all the time how tourists love the people of Charleston.  As a woman native to Charleston, I was proud to hear that.  The people of Charleston are indeed accommodating, polite, hospitable, and most are genuine in their expressions of love towards people.

How do those compliments stack up in dollars and cents?  How do they stack up in earned income for blacks who clean, prep, cook, and sing songs for tourists in sweet shops to help keep the tourist industry booming?  I am referring to the service workers.  I would argue that it is their pictures that should be on the Carta Buses.  After all, they represent in greater numbers the cheap labor that keeps the streets clean, the horse manure scrapped up, and hotel lobbies sparkling.

It is the cheap labor provided by blacks educated in a school system in the South that provides just enough education to keep that labor pool of workers stocked and available for hire.  Good food, crisp linen, white towels and clean dishes and silverware.  That’s what tourists remember most about traveling.  And those services come from the back of the house.

This Blog was written with black folk in mind who are native to the City.  Those persons who have lived in Charleston their entire lives and have worked jobs that do not afford them the opportunity to eat in restaurants where they work let alone live downtown close to their jobs.