Koestner: Why are we honoring such an evil man?

May 22, 2013 

— Normally, statutes are meant to honor people who have led exemplary lives and served as role models. But a statue on our State House grounds honors one of our state’s most notorious terrorists, Pitchfork Ben Tillman. Tillman was dedicated to a hate-filled philosophy of white supremacy and actually said the black man “must remain subordinate or be exterminated.”

In a 2000 New York Times book review, Charles Dew recounted how the 29-year-old Tillman had led a paramilitary unit in the 1876 “coldblooded murder of a number of black militiamen who had the effrontery to conduct a celebratory parade through the mostly black town of Hamburg S.C. four days earlier on the fourth of July. As Tillman himself would later put it ‘The leading men of Edgefield’ had decided to ‘seize the first opportunity that the Negroes might offer them to provoke a riot and teach the Negroes a lesson’ by ‘having the whites demonstrate their superiority by killing as many of them as was justifiable.’ None of the perpetrators at the Hamburg murders were ever brought to justice.”

Tillman bragged about his participation in this incident and used it as a springboard to be elected governor in 1890 and U.S. senator in 1894, where he served until 1918. During his tenure, he promoted illegal lynchings, white supremacy and denial of voting rights to blacks and women. In the early 1900s, after President Theodore Roosevelt invited Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House, Tillman declared that “The action of President Roosevelt in entertaining that nigger will necessitate our killing a thousand niggers in the South before they learn their place again.”

Please do your own research. This statue on the State House grounds far overshadows the Confederate flag. A moral society must not tolerate the presence of a statue of such a hate-filled, inhumane man on government property. Any good that he might have accomplished is far outweighed by his egregious actions and attitudes.

The statute, which sits prominently in the front, right side of the State House, has his words inscribed on the base: “The country belongs to us all and we all belong to it. … Let us share it with each other then.” What a sham. Tillman could display a smooth public persona, belying his true inner wicked spirit.

Warren Koestner

Columbia

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