Do Confederate memorials honor soldiers killed in war or memorialize racism?
With nationwide calls for the removal of Confederate monuments on the rise, a coalition of Columbia-area groups is calling for the S.C. Legislature to remove several monuments on the State House grounds.
A “We the People” rally Thursday at the State House called for the replacement of four monuments: the Confederate soldier monument on Gervais Street, and monuments to Wade Hampton, Ben Tillman and J. Marion Sims.
The rally came just two weeks after a woman was killed and several others injured during protests around a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Va.
“We are setting the tone for this conversation in Columbia because we want it to be peaceful dialogue and a process to do it,” Michelle Edgar with Greater Columbia Action Together told WIS-TV. “We don’t want to have violence and people harmed and bloodshed like in Charlottesville.”
Removing the statues would require changing or repealing the Heritage Act. Passed after the Confederate flag came off the Capitol dome in 2000, the Heritage Act requires a two-thirds majority vote in the Legislature to remove historical monuments.
Among the statues targeted by protesters are those that honor:
▪ Wade Hampton III, a Confederate general and slave owner who became South Carolina’s first post-Reconstruction governor from 1876 to 1879, then was U.S. senator from 1879 to 1891.
▪ Benjamin “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman, governor from 1890 to 1894 and U.S. senator from 1895 to 1918. Tillman was not in the Civil War but was the architect of the state’s 1895 Constitution that stripped blacks of most of their postwar civil rights. He also helped found Clemson and Winthrop universities, which both have administrative buildings named after Tillman.
▪ James Marion Sims, a surgeon hailed as the father of modern gynecology who is criticized for experimental surgeries performed on enslaved women without anesthesia. Sims moved to New York in 1850s before spending the Civil War in exile in Europe. Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin is among those who have called for a bust of Sims to be removed.
Statue opponents might find it difficult to get them moved.
When the Legislature voted to remove the Confederate flag from the State House in 2015 after the racially motivated mass slaying at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church, House Speaker Jay Lucas said he wouldn’t entertain any other changes or exceptions to the Heritage Act.
The Darlington Republican since has repeated that position.
“I think, before we can even figure out a solution, we have to open up a public discussion and debate,” Kim Baker with Indivisible Midlands told ABC Columbia.