In wake of the hate crimes in Maryland and Oregon, self-protection becomes a priority Highly publicized, race-motivated crimes are forcing black America to think about legal carry … or not

Should we bring a gun?

It’s not exactly the question you think would come to mind while planning a leisurely getaway. But as my husband and I packed for a long weekend of culture, Southern cuisine and a well-deserved rest, it was one we repeatedly and seriously asked ourselves.

We were headed to the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, South Carolina, where the heat and history can be oppressive. It’s a city that sometimes feels like a foreign country, but it’s as all-American as it gets. You can stand where men, women and children were shackled, poked, prodded, bought and sold — you can feel their ghosts. Some 40 percent of the enslaved in the 13 colonies during the trans-Atlantic slave trade came through the city. And yet, here we are, a black woman and white man, mixing and mingling and applauding with audiences and performers of all races at what’s become a major tourist draw.

In Charleston, the past is never past, as unapologetic racist Dylann Roof proved when in 2015 he chose historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, known as Mother Emanuel, a spiritual and civil rights bulwark, as the site of a hate-filled killing spree, murdering nine parishioners after praying with them for the better part of an hour. In North Charleston, unarmed African-American Walter Scott was shot by a police officer in the back; it was considered imperfect justice when Scott’s killer, Michael Slager, pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights charge after a state jury could not agree on a verdict despite video evidence.

Charleston has its special history. But is it all that different from the rest of America?


In New Orleans, the decision to remove and move monuments to the Confederacy, some erected long after the Civil War’s end, is debated and resisted.

Portland, Oregon, has its own Western brand of exclusionary racism baked in the soil, exemplified by Oregon’s policy barring blacks from living there when the state entered the union in 1859 and the legacy of those actions since then. In Portland, a man has been charged in the murder of two white men and the attempted murder of a third when the three came to the aid of two African-American women, one wearing a hijab, being harangued and harassed on public transportation last month. The accused attacker was known for expressing white supremacist views at rallies and on social media.

In Maryland, my home state, an empty chair took the place of 23-year-old Richard Collins III, a recently commissioned U.S. Army second lieutenant, at his Bowie State University graduation; his life was ended as he waited for his ride at a University of Maryland bus stop. A 22-year-old white man, who was a member of a Facebook group called “Alt-Reich,” has been charged in the stabbing; authorities are investigating whether it was a hate crime.

When crowds in Charlottesville, Virginia, protesting a City Council vote to remove a park statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee marched, shouted and carried flaming torches, all that was missing was a burning cross.

There is aggression in words as well, and no one is immune. So Cleveland Cavalier great LeBron James was not that surprised when a racist slur was spray-painted on the gate of his Los Angeles home.

“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you,” the saying goes.

America’s focus has turned to the danger from without, from foreign terrorism and the bad actors entering the country with mayhem in mind. Those are the stories making the headlines, though in truth, domestic terrorism is the threat many people of color fear the most.

The Southern Poverty Law Center tracks attacks by extremists and domestic terrorism and threats by hate groups, which saw an increase in the years of the Obama presidency and continue to rise.

So it made sense for my husband and me to investigate the South Carolina gun laws. The state’s “your home is your castle” Castle Doctrine extends to vehicles and workplaces, meaning our registered piece could indeed travel with us on a journey we hoped would be routine but feared could escalate in an instant.

Laws for self-protection and the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms are tricky and possibly dangerous for African-Americans, as those rights once applied only to whites — and some would say they still do. A registration did not stop legal gun owner Philando Castile from being killed in Minnesota in July 2016 by a panicked police officer, who was found not guilty of any crime this past week despite shooting into a car with a 4-year-old girl as a passenger.

Many, however, have decided taking that chance is worth it, and it has been reported that gun ownership among African-Americans is increasing.

In Charleston, in between programs of opera, dancing and jazz, we made the pilgrimage to Mother Emanuel, quiet and protected. It sits on Calhoun Street, which honors South Carolinian John C. Calhoun, a defender of slavery as a “positive good.”

On these streets, our marriage would have been a crime 50 years ago, before the Loving case removed the legal barriers. In 1998, when South Carolina threw out its unenforceable state ban, 38 percent of voters wanted to keep the pre-Loving status quo.

The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) is planning a memorial to peace and justice in Montgomery, Alabama, acknowledging the lynching and legally sanctioned racial terror that traumatized citizens and left a legacy. “Our goal isn’t to be divisive,” Bryan Stevenson, the director of the EJI told The New York Times. “Our goal is just to get people to confront the truth of our past with some more courage.” The museum “From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration” would be one of many memorials.

Are these reminders needed? Last month, tourists visiting the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington found a noose in an exhibition on segregation. In an email to staff, museum director Lonnie Bunch said, “Today’s incident is a painful reminder of the challenges that African-Americans continue to face.”

Will America face this enemy within?

As for our final decision on that gun, we decided not to carry after all. It would have been legal, but it may not have been wise. We did, however, pack a big honkin’ knife.

A state-of-the-art African-American museum is coming to Charleston, South Carolina The $75 million project will include a resource center for African-American genealogy

There are many unique ways to tell the story of the United States’ rich, cultural African-American history. From the first African slaves to step onto American soil to the complex yet resplendent history of African-Americans today, there are still so many stories that have yet to be told.

It’s part of the reason that businessman Michael Boulware Moore, the great-great-grandson of Robert Smalls, an enslaved African-American who escaped to freedom by commandeering a Confederate supply ship, is hoping to help continue to educate the public by spearheading a project that will bring a $75 million African-American museum to Charleston, South Carolina.

“I’ve got a real deep connection to Charleston, to African-American history, to the project, and so I decided to come on and help lead the museum and help raise the money that we need to break ground and to get it built so it can make the greatest impact it can make,” Moore said.

The International African American Museum, slated to open in late 2020, will feature several exhibits that will walk visitors through West Africa in the 17th century and end with the formation of new African-American communities in the 21st century, according to the website. Inside, exhibits will include digital wall backdrops, large-scale film, imagery and life-sized interactive contemporary figures for visitors to engage.

The museum will also focus on the full scope of African-American history, with an emphasis on South Carolina’s role in colonial American history.

Between 1783 and 1808, approximately 100,000 slaves arriving from across West Africa were transported through Gadsden’s Wharf and other South Carolina ports and sold to the 13 colonies, according to an article in The New York Times. Nearly half of enslaved Africans brought to America came through Charleston, and nearly 80 percent of African-Americans can potentially trace an ancestor who arrived in the city.

“Building the museum in Charleston is that one spot where we can all pilgrimage to, to pay homage to our ancestors, pay respects to the sacrifices that they made and contemplate our own lives based on that context,” Moore said. “It was a place where so much economic vibrancy and growth and innovation came from.”

Moore became the chief executive officer of the International African American Museum in February 2016 after being invited to join the museum’s board by former Charleston mayor Joseph Riley. At the time, the board was looking for executive leadership to help move the project along. Having spent more than two decades as an advertising executive leading major marketing campaigns for brands such as Coca-Cola and Kraft, Moore was a perfect fit for the job.

“On one hand, I’ve been this marketer consulting, working and running companies,” Moore said. “On the other, there’s a side of me that’s been focused on social justice, serving others and African-American history. This is the first opportunity in my life where I’ve been able to leverage all of me in service to a project. It’s a very special opportunity. It’s one that I take really, really seriously because of the impact it potentially can have, and I couldn’t be more thrilled about the team we have around us and what we’re doing.”

There are several features Moore and developers plan to incorporate to enhance the museum experience, including a free smartphone app and beacons in each exhibit that will allow visitors to receive the exhibit’s content through video, text and audio right to their phones.

Moore and his team are also negotiating with officials in Sierra Leone to bring artifacts from the West African nation’s old slave fort, Bunce Island, to the museum.

“We’ve discussed bringing a couple of stones that were at the end of a jetty at Bunce Island,” Moore said. “They used to aggregate the captives there, march them down this stone jetty and onto slave ships. The last two stones, we’re talking about retrieving those, bringing them here and using them as a centerpiece of a memorial for the African ancestors.”

One of the most important aspects of the museum will be its Center for Family History, which, according to Moore, is set to become the leading resource center for African-American genealogy in the country. Partnering with DNA firms, genealogy readings will be able to tell visitors specifically where their African ancestry originated on the continent.

“Someone will walk in like most African-Americans and not know a whole lot about their long-term family history,” Moore said. “Most African-Americans can go back maybe to a great-grandparent. They’ll be able to walk out with a full account of their family history back to the first African who came here. It’s really going to be a transformative experience.”

Although several African-American museums exist in the United States, Moore hopes visitors will come to Charleston to pay homage to those who came before them and leave the invaluable experience with a deeper sense of their identity.

“Because this museum is on a spot where almost all African-Americans have a relative, there will be a real connection to the space and to the beginning of our American experience,” Moore said. “What we hope to try to create in this museum is a place where all African-Americans, wherever you are in the country or hemisphere, will want to bring your family here. It’s a place where your ancestors came and a place we can finally go to pay homage to their experiences and sacrifices, and reconnect with them.”