Thanks to a group of passionate protesters at Winthrop University, a long-simmering issue over former South Carolina governor and noted white supremacist Benjamin Tillman has once energized students on campus.
Nearly 80 students and faculty took part in a march, sit-in and letter-writing campaign earlier this month to raise support renaming Winthrop’s main administration building. The efforts are similar to those taken by students at Clemson University, where a twin building stands, and at the South Carolina Statehouse, where a monument to the former senator stands.
In recent years, there have been several efforts to get university trustees to remove Tillman’s name from the building. Tillman was clear and open about his racist views before he died and he gloated about killing black people. Winthrop officials point to a South Carolina law, passed in 2000, to protect war memorials and historic structures on public property. The law prevents anyone from changing the name of any street, bridge, structure or park that has been “dedicated in memory of, or named for, any historic figure or historic event.”
Changing the state law requires a two-thirds vote of the General Assembly, and just last week officials reiterated their position that it would be pointless to attempt a name change since it is unlikely Winthrop could garner enough support from state lawmakers to provide an exception for renaming Tillman Hall.
The Herald has developed a multimedia presentation regarding the controvsery, where readers can learn about the history of recent protests, the conversation around the state and the influence Tillman has had on South Carolina.