I wish I could say that my (along with others’) participation in the May Day protests in Baltimore had led to a total dialogue of reconciliation between people of all races and we Americans have decided to put the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow far behind and we are now living together in perfect harmony. But I would be telling a fairy tale if I said it.

I woke up early this morning and checked my cell phone, where my various news apps have suddenly gone off with what happened in Charleston. (For those of you living totally cut off from the news, here’s a primer of what went down.)

I’ve been to Charleston a couple of times (with the last time being in 2008 just before my hip replacement). It’s such a place full of cognitive dissonance. On the surface it’s a really nice seaside town with lovely architecture. There’s a lot of history as well with places like Ft. Sumter and the Old Slave Mart. People of all races seemed to be walking around and getting along with each other, including plenty of recent immigrant Latinos speaking Spanish among each other. This sign that I saw posted on a wall outside a kosher bed & breakfast for Jewish travelers is indicative of the Southern hospitality that’s so common in Charleston and other places in the Deep South.

Shalom Y'all

There’s the Charleston City Market where local artisans display their wares, including the straw crafts made by the Gullah people. I saw pro-Obama campaign signs in the windows of some of the houses located along the historic Broad Street. Located just a few miles outside the Charleston city limits is Cypress Gardens, which is such a photographer’s nirvana as these next few photos show.

Where is the Alligator? Cypress Gardens, Charleston, South Carolina 2008

Cypress Gardens, Charleston, South Carolina, 2008

Cypress Gardens, Charleston, South Carolina, 2008

Cypress Gardens, Charleston, South Carolina, 2008

Find the Swimming Alligator

White Bridge at Cypress Gardens

Then you hit something like this museum that’s run by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. (For the record, I didn’t go inside that museum but I did walk past it since it’s so close to the Charleston City Market.) When I went in a souvenir shop located near the Charleston City Market, I saw these magnets showing stereotypical black children (with thick lips and bug eyes)—one a boy eating watermelon and the other a girl dressed like Aunt Jemima—with the name “Charleston” written underneath the figurines. (My then-husband and I hadn’t gotten our first smartphones yet or else I would’ve taken and posted those photos.) On top of that, if you were to travel to Columbus you’d see that South Carolina’s statehouse still flies the Confederate flag alongside the U.S. and South Carolina flags.

Basically when you visit Charleston (and the rest of South Carolina, for that matter) you can be expected to go “How lovely!” one minute and “WTF?!?” the next.

There’s been a huge outpouring on Facebook and Twitter about what happened. The best writing I saw on this topic is this one that was written by one of my Facebook friends who is an African American man. He’s not a media personality so there probably won’t be a lot of attention paid to what he’s written. But it’s well worth the read because he articulated things far better than I, as a white woman, ever could.


And then there is this blog post whose link was posted by our outgoing Unitarian Universalist minister that was written by a white female minister called Dear White People.