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How Southern Charm Finally Addressed Charleston's Slavery Past

In an exclusive interview with E! News, Leva Bonaparte opened up about the removal of a Confederate statue and moving forward from the South's racist history.

By Brett Malec Dec 04, 2020 3:00 AMTags
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A turning point for Southern Charm.

Tonight's Dec. 3 episode of the hit Bravo series addressed a serious and complex topic not discussed in the previous six seasons: Charleston's history of slavery and, more specifically, the city's longstanding statue honoring American Vice President John C. Calhoun.

Calhoun was a fervent believer in slavery and white supremacy. Controversy surrounding Charleston's Calhoun statue was a main storyline on tonight's Southern Charm amid the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests over police brutality and racial inequality in this county.

The conversation was led by Leva Bonaparte, the show's first cast member of color. "He is known as a person who fought to keep slavery as his last dying wish," Leva explained to friend Danni Baird. "He was not a very good person."

"I think the statue coming down could really be a moment of healing for our community," Leva adds.

Leva and Danni later attend a conference where members of the community voiced their support for the statue's removal.

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"On this very square I had stood several times enjoying the festivities in Charleston not realizing that we stood under a statue of someone that wanted to make sure that people who look like me, that look like my fiancée Megan Pinkney, stayed in chains," South Carolina state representative Todd Rutherford said.

Community Organizer Merrill Chapman added, "My family owned slaves. That's hard for me to say...My history deserves its place: it's place is in a museum. It's time to come down."

Meg Kinnard/AP/Shutterstock

Later at brunch, Leva, Danni and their friends cheers to "our kids not having to see that ugly statue anymore."

"And the people that want to keep it up, it's like what are you fighting for?" friend Madison Simon asked. "Do you want to be standing on the same side as the KKK?"

In an exclusive interview with E! News, Leva opened up about what the Calhoun statues removal on June 24, 2020 meant to her.

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John Valkos/Tommy Garcia/Bravo

"It's not just any Confederate statue. It was built to actually sort of terrorize African Americans. It was built to look down on what is now Calhoun St. but used to be Boundary St.," Leva shared. "That statue was supposed to sort of strike the fear of god in them if they were to cross that side of the street. The whole symbolism of the statue, it really wasn't to honor his V.P. status so to speak, it was really there to terrorize African Americans."
 
Leva continued, "I think it coming down was the city just being like, 'We get it. This needs to go.' And particularly it being on the same street from where the Emanuel Nine massacre happened, I think it's the least the city could do to honor the nine souls that were lost that day in what was supposed to be a very calculated race war."

The Bravo star, who has a biracial son with husband Lamar Bonaparte, said she's definitely seen "a shift" in Charleston this year amid the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests.

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"I think a lot of people have woken up," she explained. "I think a lot of people are not afraid to say, 'No, I do support this. No, I do see the systematic racism. No, I do see that this is not OK.' And people that wouldn't typically have a voice on any matter...I see a lot changing in Charleston and that's super cool. It's the coolest for my kid."

One person who was missing from the conversation on tonight's episode? Leva's Southern Charm co-star Kathryn Dennis, who is a descendant of John C. Calhoun. "Kathryn should definitely be here today," Leva says in the episode. "To just show up and be like, 'I am related to John C. Calhoun. What he did is not OK and I am sorry.' That would have been such a testament to, 'We're moving forward.'"

According to Leva, Kathryn's only response to the statue's removal was, "I don't care. It's ugly." 

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Leva admitted the Calhoun statue isn't Charleston's only reminder of the South's problematic history with slavery and racism. "There's a ton. We can list a ton of different things and the way the tours are ran," she explained to E!. "Like if you're in a tour in Charleston they're going to tell you that something's a carriage stoop when actually it's a slave block where they used to sell slaves. All that stuff, it needs to be addressed and it needs to be changed." 

She continued, "I think that little by little people are understanding that it doesn't have to always be swept under the rug. I think healing starts when we own it and we talk about it and we heal from it, you know? And we honor the atrocities that were committed against many of the ancestors of people who live here and love here. Love this city and everyone in it. It was huge for our city, that thing coming down."

John Valkos/Tommy Garcia/Bravo

As for Southern Charm's turning point of discussing tough topics like the history of slavery, she said, "I think that those kind of things need to be acknowledged and I think it's important. I don't think it needs to be the main part of the show, but I think not addressing it when it does come up is not authentic. So I hope that those issues are addressed here and everywhere.

Southern Charm airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on Bravo. Binge past seasons of Southern Charm on Peacock any time.

(E!, Bravo and Peacock are all part of the NBCUniversal family)

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