Councilmember Darby: Why I oppose the 526 project

Why I oppose the I-526 project
Thursday, June 9, 2011
In recent weeks, the completion of I-526 has again become a major issue. There are two camps diametrically opposed to each other — one in favor of completing the project, the other fast against it.

Metaphorically, Charleston County is tied between two headstrong horses, each pulling in opposite directions. Each camp has its champions and followers. Those opposing are led by the Coastal Conservation League with strong support from many Johns and James Island residents and several County Council members.

Support for the project is led by the mayors of the cities of Charleston and North Charleston, State Reps. Limehouse and Harrell, the S.C. Department of Transportation, and are joined by several County Council members and many residents of the County. But how many residents support or oppose the project remains conjectural and perhaps is the most contentious part of the issue.

As both a citizen of the county and a council member, I have dwelt long over the issue of the extension and listened to the views of residents and others. Opinion and reason seem to weigh heavier in opposition to the extension; and accordingly, I have voted against it. But there have been other influences.

History attests that the construction of route I-26 and its exits purposely went through every conceivable African-American community from North Charleston to downtown Charleston. This accounts for the meandering of the interstate as it snakes through Midland Park, Ten Mile Hill, Liberty Park, Russelldale, Liberty Hill, Union Heights, Daniel Jenkins Project, Rosemont, Silver Hill, Crosstown, etc. Every code of jurisprudence should go against this unjust and unfair practice. The governmental powers divided and devastated the neighborhoods as if it were open season upon the poor. There was no respect, no regard, no appreciation for the legacy, history, culture, and customs of African-American neighborhoods. The neighborhoods seemed nothing more than socio-political-economic play toys, taking away the most valuable asset the poor can possess — land. Looking at the possible routes of the I-526 extension, in my view, I-26 is praxis for the completion of the extension.

After the abrogation and evisceration of the slave system in 1865, the African American was left on the national scene, particularly within the South, penniless, illiterate, landless with nothing. Congress never heeded the words of Frederick Douglass of ‘Forty Acres and a Mule.’ Meanwhile, the government was giving away millions of acres of land in the West and Midwest without cost to its white exiles from Europe while former slaves received nothing even though they had worked the land for 244 years for free. Nevertheless, the freedmen worked under incredible hardships and acquired 15 million acres of land by 1910 and 23 million by 1923.

Sadly, today, African-Americans own fewer than one million acres of land and are part owners of another million. Millions of acres have been taken by government in the name of ‘infrastructure’ and the doctrine of ‘public use’ — precursors to developments such as Hilton Head, Daniel Island, Cainhoy and other areas once owned by African-Americans. Many whites and blacks on James and Johns islands have worked arduously to fulfill the American Dream. The continuance of I-526 would materially disrupt their way and style of life. Affluent white communities on the islands now taste what African-American communities had to digest for years as members of the affluent communities packed council chambers time and time again with their concerns to prevent the project in any form.

The extension of I-526 would not be a burning issue if the islands were not affected by the potential of more development and overcrowding. While proponents assert that outrageous development and overcrowding can be prevented by zoning, it is a desperate half-truth in my view. If those elected to local government are in favor of less density and liberal zoning laws, a change of lifestyle on James and Johns islands will be inevitable within a few short years. It is easy to do to other communities what one would not do to his/her community. It is easy for us who are non-islanders to say, ‘Build I-526.’ Proponents’ standard of living will not be compromised or threatened.

As a council member, I have always sided with residents of their community over controversial matters. If there is a silent majority which resides on James and Johns islands, it needs to speak up and let its voice be heard. For me to favor the completion of I-526, my trepidation and concerns must be assuaged on two fronts: African-Americans and their land must not be compromised; and the citizens of Johns and James islands must be able to maintain the lifestyle for which they have worked. If this cannot be demonstrated, my opposition to the extension of the interstate will continue.

Henry E. Darby represents District 4 on Charleston County Council.

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