Disparities Report

Local Activist Jerome Smalls

Black Life in the Charleston Area

A Disparities Report on the State of African Americans in

Charleston County



Commissioned by The College of Charleston’s Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture

Funded by Google


In 2015, the cities of Charleston and North Charleston, South Carolina made national headlines when a white police officer and a white supremacist gunned down Black victims in shootings that intensified an already fever-pitch national debate about police brutality and race in America.


On April 4, Walter Scott, a 50-year-old unarmed Black man was shot 5 times in the back by Officer Michael Slager following a routine traffic stop in an incident caught on cell phone video by a witness.  The video of his murder, which was widely circulated on social media, played out like a horrific mashup from Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland and other cities where unarmed black men and teens have died by police bullets.


Almost three months later and less than 12 miles from that unremarkable grassy area where Scott died, Dylann Roof entered a prayer meeting at “Mother Emanuel,” an historic African American church in downtown Charleston, and killed 9 black people because he wanted to spark “a race war.”


On the heels of that bloody tragedy, which also claimed the life of the church’s pastor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, some insisted that the attack at the historic church was an isolated incident.  Much of the mainstream news coverage highlighted the ways in which the community came together in a time of distress, and the removal of the Confederate flags from state buildings across the South.  But others said the shooting was yet another reminder that a culture of white supremacy is very much alive and well in the two cities and that it is high time to confront underlying racial inequities and tensions.


These deadly incidents reflect pervasive attitudes about the indispensability of Black life in America and provide the context for examining the status of African Americans in the Charleston area fifty years after the passing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. How have African Americans in Charleston and North Charleston fared since the twentieth century civil rights movement? What are the systemic barriers that African Americans face in their pursuit of quality education, living wages, home ownership, affordable healthcare, safe communities, and self-determination?


This disparities report will address these issues and provide a decisive blueprint for 1) identifying systemic barriers that increasingly marginalize African Americans in Charleston and North Charleston, 2) and strategizing policy reform for dismantling barriers to equal opportunities in voter participation, education, employment, housing, and health care in addition to devising strategies for stemming police brutality in Charleston and North Charleston.


The report will cover the following areas:

*Employment/Business enterprise
*Voter rights
*Incarceration rates
*Public health
*Racialized violence against African Americans

Recognizing that many people in the Charleston area have identified, studied, and worked on the problem of racial disparities for many years, we will learn from and build on prior efforts, and will rely heavily on the advice and guidance of activists, leaders, researchers, and residents of Charleston and North Charleston’s communities of color.  Ultimately, this report will serve as a tool to help promote greater public awareness and understanding of the depth and breadth of the racial disparities that differentiate the white and black experience in Charleston. Our goal for this report is to lay the quantitative and qualitative data groundwork for a sustained community-wide effort to address the disparities we find.