With cotton, the plantation economy expanded in the Charleston hinterland and to the west at the beginning of the 18th century. Labor was in short supply and the slave trade was big business. Charleston became the largest slave market in the United States.
According to acronymmonster, the “pearl on the Atlantic” could not hold its position as the capital of the south for long. The cultivation of cotton leached the soil, the cotton migrated to the west. And with the decline of the plantation economy, so did that of Charleston. In 1860 Charleston had 23,376 whites, 13,909 slaves and 3,227 free blacks. The city had grown in absolute terms, but less rapidly than other cities. The port’s trade volume declined in relation to the general economic growth of the region. Savannah, Mobile, but above all New Orleans appeared as competitors. Charleston’s social life reached its peak in the years before the Civil War. The theaters flourished, the «St. Cecilia Society »gave more concerts than ever.
However, industrialization projects such as building a textile factory failed because of a lack of manpower, skills and capital. Canal construction and railroads diverted the goods flow past the city. Like the rest of the south, Charleston increasingly felt the Union’s protective tariffs against cheap textile imports from England to be a disadvantage. The opposition to slavery also grew in the Union. The once cheerful, cosmopolitan and tolerant Charleston radicalized and took the lead in those forces in South Carolina who wanted to defend the survived economic and social system at all costs. Following the election of Republican Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, South Carolina’s Secession Convention convened in Charleston on December 17, 1860. On December 20, the assembly resolved to withdraw South Carolina from the Union.
“A city of ruins, of despair, of empty houses, of widows, a city of crumbling docks, abandoned warehouses, weed-overgrown gardens, grass-overgrown streets, screaming wasteland.” wrote a reporter from the north after the war, “This is Charleston, where the rebellion haughtily raised its head.” In 1886, a huge earthquake shattered the rebuilt city. A series of hurricanes destroyed rice crops around the turn of the century. With the establishment of a naval shipyard on the Cooper River in 1901 and the First World War, an economic upswing began hesitantly. Charleston expanded, built bridges, got electric street lights. But Charleston had lost its economic importance. And racial segregation intensified.
As everywhere in the south, the black Charlestonians had become second-class citizens after the Reconstruction, the time of rebuilding. Now they founded their own institutions – schools, newspapers, theaters – and prepared themselves for a future without political claims and without influence on the fortunes of the city.
From old to new Charleston
Only the economic upturn triggered by the Second World War brought the political turning point. Charleston’s naval shipyards attracted thousands of workers. The suburbs grew explosively. The city government reflected on the social obligations of the community and finally set up public services. The leaders of the Charleston black community began making demands and advocating their rights. Ironically, the drive for the developing civil rights movement was provided by an eighth generation of Charleston aristocrats: Judge J. Waties Waring gave blacks the opportunity to participate in the Primary Elections, the election of candidates for the Democratic Party, which until then had been reserved for whites. The race barrier first fell in Charleston on the municipal golf course, then in the city schools. In 1969 the black employees of the city’s largest employer went on strike. from Medical University, for union recognition and higher wages. The strike lasted a hundred days and was the real acid test for Charleston’s society – a test that passed. Despite the explosive atmosphere, the strike took place without violence and without racial riots.
Today Charleston lives from the navy, from the administration of the state of South Carolina, from its port, the second largest container terminal on the Atlanlik coast. The «St. Cecilia Society »still hosts balls. The Spoleto Festival brings classical music, ballet, film and theater to the city. The Charle-stonians are still said to have a tendency to dissolute life. Gambling, striptease and prostitution have long been banned in the city. It wasn’t until 1970 that the state lifted the alcohol ban imposed on the old sin babel at the end of the last century, a concession to the tourists who bring millions of dollars to Charleston every year and want to drink at least one beer with dinner.