Wheeling City Council Condemns City’s Role in Slave Trade
WHEELING — City Council condemned Wheeling’s historical involvement in the slave trade through a resolution passed Tuesday evening.
Council members unanimously voted to approve a resolution acknowledging and denouncing the city’s “role in fostering the institution of slavery and perpetuating racial segregation.”
The resolution also recognized today, June 19, as Juneteenth Independence Day in Wheeling. A ceremony will be held at 6 p.m. at the northeast end of Market Plaza, the former site of a slave auction block.
“It’s safe to say that the biggest stain on the city of Wheeling’s history is that we were a slave city, though we did emerge out of the Civil War on the right side,” Mayor Glenn Elliott said. “There’s never been a statement recognizing the role that it did play in the slave trade.”
The resolution noted that Wheeling was a regional hub for the slave trade and that census data shows 100 slaves lived in Ohio County in 1860. It further denounced the Jim Crow laws enacted after the Civil War that led to segregation and oppression of black people.
“(Wheeling) must neither purge nor minimize the role it played in the enslavement and segregation of African-Americans and the dehumanizing atrocities committed against them,” the resolution reads.
Elliott will read the resolution today at the city’s first Juneteenth Celebration, a national holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S. He and Councilwoman Wendy Scatterday thanked the Wheeling 250 committee for their work on the celebration and preparing the resolution.
“We charged (the committee) to not only to look at Wheeling’s history and tell the good stuff, but to tell the true history, the good, the bad and the ugly as they say,” Elliott said.
Owens Brown, president of the West Virginia NAACP, spoke during the public comment period of the meeting and thanked the city for its “integral” role in the Juneteenth Celebration.
“Small deeds go a long way in healing a lot of wounds from the past,” Brown said, noting that 2019 also marks the 400th anniversary of the first slaves arriving in America.
In other matters, council approved an ordinance to form a Waterfront-Heritage Port Commission, a board that will advise the city and council on using and developing the city’s waterfront.
The commission stemmed from the city’s Waterfront Enhancement Ad Hoc Committee that council appointed last year, which made several recommendations regarding improving Heritage Port and the surrounding area.
“The consensus coming out of (the committee) was that we really needed a body of different stakeholders from across the city invested in how to use that port, to set up a new commission,” Elliott said.
The commission will be singularly focused on Heritage Port, potential improvements and how to best utilize the space for events, he said.
“We need to keep it looking like world-class facility that it is,” Elliott said of Heritage Port.
Also at the meeting, Elliott appointed Loma Nevels to the Wheeling Housing Authority. He further reappointed her to the Human Rights Commission alongside Chairman Frank Calabrese.
In addition, Elliott appointed Daniel Finsley, owner of Wheeling Threads, and Betsy Sweeny of Wheeling Heritage to the Arts and Cultural Commission.
Council also approved forming an ad hoc committee to discuss upcoming work on I-70 at the request of Councilman Dave Palmer. The committee will comprise a number of city and county officials.
“It’s to make sure that, as the I-70 work moves forward, we’re all talking to each other,” Elliott said.
The body further approved a series of spending ordinances for routine purchases of water treatment and pollution control chemicals at the meeting, totalling to about $540,000.
In first readings, council heard ordinances to spend $40,000 on the city’s Fourth of July fireworks display and just over $50,000 on accessible sidewalks at the Interstate 470 ballfields.
The body also heard an ordinance to spend $15,700 to cover emergency digging on Warwood Avenue in response to acid mine drainage.
Toward the close of the meeting, council approved a resolution honoring G. Randolph Worls, chairman emeritus at the Oglebay Foundation, for his lifetime of work at Oglebay, advancing the park and the park systems of Wheeling.
“It is inconceivable to imagine the city today without your contributions,” Elliott said, who also presented Worls with a key to the city.