Rev. Nelson Rivers reflects on Mayor Summey’s tenure

North Charleston was incorporated as a city just a little more than 50 years ago, and Rivers has known all three of its mayors.
Published: Mar. 13, 2023 at 8:28 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 13, 2023 at 8:33 PM EDT
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NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - They didn’t always agree, but one civil rights advocate is giving credit where credit is due. Now that Keith Summey has decided not to run again for mayor of North Charleston, we sat down with Rev. Nelson B. Rivers for a candid conversation about North Charleston’s longest-serving leader.

North Charleston was incorporated as a city just a little more than 50 years ago, and Rivers has known all three of its mayors. He said Summey is not his favorite.

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“He did good things in his mind for the city, not always for Black folk in the city,” Rivers said.

Rivers pastors Charity Baptist Church in North Charleston, and he’s an officer with the National Action Network. Summey announced last week he will not run for another term as mayor. Rivers remembers Summey as a man of his word, although they battled on several issues.

One of those issues was Riverfront Park. In 2008, Rivers learned that the city was planning to erect a Confederate emblem at the park. He immediately called Summey to voice his opposition to the idea.

“And he said to me at the time, it’s just history. I said no, there’s a lot of things in my history I don’t want to honor. And there’s some things in our history we should not honor. And the confederate flag, and the civil war and the enslavement of black people is something we shouldn’t honor. We should not forget it, but we shouldn’t put it in the place of honor. And he agreed.”

Rivers also gives Summey lots of credit for the prompt way he handled the 2015 police shooting of Walter Scott by officer Michael Slager. Rivers was in New York at the time, to meet with northern mayors about police violence, when he got a call.

“Mayor Summey called and announced, and told me they were firing Slager, which was in retrospect, a pretty strong move by the mayor and the city. Because as we’ve learned in the subsequent years, no matter how egregious police conduct is, often times they get to keep their jobs,” Rivers said.

And just two days after nine people were gunned down inside Emanuel AME Church downtown Charleston at Wednesday evening Bible study, he asked then-Charleston Mayor Joe Riley and Mayor Summey, to join him in demanding the removal of the Confederate flag at the Statehouse.

“Mayor Summey agreed to stand with me and looking back, that took some doing on his part, because my stance on the flag had been consistent, loud and pretty strong, and for him to stand, said something about his willingness to stand.”

Rivers said Mayor Summey was always available and always open, even though they didn’t always agree with each other.

As for North Charleston’s next mayor, Rivers thinks a woman could be the right person for the job. He is encouraging women candidates to “run hard and run strong” for the top job in North Charleston.