John Singletary has a vision for one of America’s poorest, most crime-ridden cities

Yesterday, I had a great conversation with John Singletary, who is running for Mayor of North Charleston, South Carolina. I came away very impressed with him. If he wins, by redirecting government funds to better causes, he might help break the poverty cycle in a city that has one of the worst crime problems in America and that has huge pockets of black poverty. However, I couldn’t help wondering whether government money, no matter how good the intentions behind it, can undo a situation that government money created in the first place.

Singletary, who was born and raised in North Charleston, is a Citadel graduate and a successful businessman. Despite having worked in places as far away as California, his heart and his home are in North Charleston. There are some things you need to know about North Charleston, not just on its own but also in the context of South Carolina and Charleston, to appreciate his concerns and understand his plans if elected.

South Carolina was a majority-black state almost from its inception until 1920. After the Civil War, Charleston’s population had a huge black majority. Beginning around 1920, though, the Great Northern Migration began, as blacks fled the South for economic opportunities in the North. Even today, the coastal part of the state, specifically Charleston, continues to hemorrhage black residents.

During the colonial era in America, the city of Charleston was the richest city in the colonies. It has a huge, well-situated natural port, and the surrounding land is incredibly fecund. Around 40% of the slaves imported into America from Africa came through Charleston (although none came through Gadsden’s wharf during Christopher Gadsden’s lifetime), and its crops—mostly rice and indigo—were the product of black labor.

Image: John Singletary. YouTube screen grab.

North Charleston, which the British began to occupy in 1680, is slightly to the north of and inland from Charleston. It has 114,852 people, 40% of whom are black and 38% of whom are white, with the rest being Hispanic, Asian, Native American, and other non-white races. It has a large Air Force base and a residual Navy presence. It’s home to some very big companies—e.g., Boeing, Mercedes-Benz, Cummins Turbo Technologies, and Bosch—so there’s lots of money here. The property taxes are relatively high.

North Charleston is also one of the most crime-ridden and impoverished cities in America, with both of these negatives focused in majority black neighborhoods. As Singletary details on his campaign website, North Charleston has “One of the nation’s highest homicide rates, above Chicago, Memphis & Atlanta.” The median income for blacks in North Charleston, Singletary told me, is at or below the federal poverty level. The black community is suffering badly.

One of the main problems, Singletary explained, is that the government has a vested interest in maintaining black poverty. There’s a lot of money to be had from poverty because federal funds flow into the city, ostensibly to alleviate the problem. The city has a huge budget of contracts it can dole out…yet only a small percentage goes to the black population. Singletary’s website details how the money flows in the city. The site also acknowledges that, while blacks get almost none of the money, this isn’t necessarily because of racism. The Director of Special Projects is black. Also, while the mayor is white, the City Council has a racial mix. The allocation of funds is less about racism and more about keeping the funds flowing.

Singletary doesn’t want to stop the money flowing into North Charleston. He wants to take it out of the hands of the people who have a vested interest in maintaining poverty and redirect it to communities in need. I understand that urge. The money is there, so he wants to spend it wisely.

The problem, as I see it, is that the government will always have its thumb on the scale. No matter how good the intentions (and I think Singletary’s intentions are very good), running money through the government is like channeling pure water through a sewer and then announcing that it’s still good to drink. Government invariably corrupts money.

Yes, the money is there, but the wisest thing would be to give it to the people without the government making decisions about how it’s spent and who gets what. If it were me, I would announce that the city’s poorest residents would get a one-time payment of X dollars, kind of like a lottery. Then, it would be up to them to decide how to spend it. They could buy homes, put their kids in high-functioning private schools or home-school them, go back to school themselves, move away, start a business…whatever. I would always trust the citizens’ decisions about what benefits them over the government’s.

On other subjects we addressed, Singletary and I were in agreement. He recognizes that the welfare state broke black families, taking them from the fastest-growing economic sector in America in the late 1950s to their present situation. (I would add that blacks were the experiment, and now breaking families apart is being brought to America at large.) Fatherlessness, we agreed, is a plague.

Singletary and I also agree about education’s importance. Ironically, North Charleston has one of the top-performing high schools in America, so the city knows how to do it—it just won’t do it in other schools. If it were me, I’d ditch the requirement that teachers have a teaching degree because those people tend to be awash in ideology while low on knowledge (just look at the teachers on Libs of TikTok). Instead, I’d hire people with degrees in the areas in which they teach rather than possessing a generic teaching degree.

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