Public comments made during a special Veterans Park Committee meeting Wednesday showed support for keeping a plaque on a World War I monument that lists the names of 42 “white” and 25 “colored” Florence men who died in the war.
American Legion Post 1 received unanimous approval last month from the city’s Parks Commission to relocate the monument from the post on East Palmetto Street to the Veterans Park, but the city halted the monument’s planned move to the park earlier this month after concerns about the plaque’s language.
The recently restored plaque lists 67 Florentines who gave their lives from 1914 to 1918; specifically 42 “white” and 25 “colored” officers and enlisted men from Florence.
A common notion represented during the meeting, by both black and white veterans, was the plaque’s possible service as an educational tool for park visitors. Comments also touched on the fears of rewriting history.
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“We feel that by separating the men’s names it honors them more by highlighting the fact they went above and beyond in spite of having limited opportunities,” said American Legion Post 1 Vice Commander Mike Richie.
He said the post would be willing to compromise with the city by adding an educational marker near the monument to explain why the plaque reads “whites” and “colored,” but changing the current language would be too close to rewriting history.
Lawrence Worthem, a retired Air Force veteran and representative of Disabled Veterans Post 11, was the only opponent of the plaque at the meeting Wednesday. He said the wording is an outdated, offensive reminder of the Jim Crow era that doesn’t belong in a public park.
“Historical pieces belong in a museum and I think if we leave it like it is, it belongs in a museum,” Worthem said. “If the monument is moved to the park, a new plaque should be made …I believe it’s an injustice to prolong the Jim Crow era.”
The Veterans Park Committee has committed to have the monument as a whole restored for it to be relocated to the Florence Veterans Park.
Committee Chairman Barry Wingard said the panel will give its recommendation to the Parks Commission at its regular meeting next Thursday. The commission will then take its own recommendation to City Council for the final decision on what Florence will do with the monument, if donated.
Possible recommendations include leaving the monument as is with or without an educational marker, accepting the monument with a condition of changing the plaque to remove “whites” and “colored,” or
denying acceptance of the monument altogether.
Post 1 retains ownership of the monument and will wait to hear the council’s decision before making the ultimate decision on whether the monument should be donated.
“If it cannot be donated, it still has a very happy home at our post on Palmetto,” Richie said.
Information reported by Morning News journalist Gavin Jackson was used in this article.