S.C. statehouse grounds abound with tributes to Civil War heroes and segregationists
Countless roads, parks, schools and monuments across the country are similarly named
S.C. documentary maker says it's time to tell "the full truth of our history"
Even if the Confederate battle flag comes down, there’s still a lot to see at South Carolina’s state Capitol.
An 8-foot-tall bronze statue of Ben Tillman standing on a granite pedestal praises his “life of service and achievement” as governor and U.S. senator at the turn of the 20th century, but makes no mention of the lynching parties he infamously hosted.
Not far from that is a life-size bust of J. Marion Sims, the 19th-century physician whose advancements in gynecology came via experimental surgeries on enslaved women.
There are homages to Confederate cavalry leader Wade Hampton III, diehard slavery advocates John C. Calhoun, George McDuffie and Robert Hayne. James F. Byrnes and Strom Thurmond, more modern figures in South Carolina politics, are honored, too. At a time when segregation was challenged, they were among its fiercest defenders.
Though there is a monument to African-Americans as a group, no individual of color is honored on the Capitol grounds – except for a mention on Thurmond’s monument of his biracial daughter Essie Mae Washington-Williams, whose identity was kept secret until six months after he died.
Wednesday, one week after the shooting deaths of nine black worshipers – including a state senator – in a Charleston church, lawmakers in Columbia are debating whether it is time to take down the flag. Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white South Carolinian man, told police he shot the churchgoers because he wanted to start a race war.
Still, regardless of the outcome of the lawmakers’ debate, the flag is only one item in one place in one state.
Countless roads, parks, schools and monuments across the country are named after Confederate leaders and segregationists, and the flag flies in several other states, in front of courthouses and government buildings. The Confederate battle flag and national flag are incorporated in the state flags of, respectively, Mississippi and Georgia.
“There are thousands – I’m not sure it’s possible to know how many – places in America that honor the Confederacy,” said Maureen Costello of the hate-group-monitoring Southern Poverty Law Center. “When we name these places – or we don’t change the names of places that have been around for years – we allow white America to send a message to black America: ‘Not only do we deny your experience, but we’re going to celebrate the people who celebrated your oppression.’”
Memorials a reflection of their own time
Over the past decade, there has seemed to be a cultural push to re-examine why these places named after leaders who fought to the death to defend slavery still exist in a country that professes to have made great strides in race relations.
“In some ways, it depends on when these places and monuments were built,” said Kenneth Janken, the director of the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
He said there are a few significant periods through history that have seen a huge push to erect Confederate memorials or name places after its leaders. The first happened after the Civil War, when the South’s losses were fresh. Another happened in the 1950s and 1960s as a reaction to the civil rights movement, he said.
What’s happening now in South Carolina might be another spike in that timeline, he said.