With a dark past and complicated present, race relations have always been a challenge in Charleston.

It is here where police say nine people were slain at a historic black church on Wednesday night.

Charleston was once a major slave port and site of the first shots in the Civil War. A century later, it also served as a hub for civil rights activists who frequently gathered at the church, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal.

Progress in recent decades has included the rise of the black middle class, but pockets of poverty still exist and gentrification has pushed some black residents out as newcomers flock to trendy neighborhoods.

Bobby Donaldson is a historian at the University of South Carolina. He says the city projects a cosmopolitan image that belies problems.