Charleston History Commission to review mayor's plan for Calhoun, other monuments

Charleston History Commission to review mayor's plan for Calhoun, other monuments

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg will present a plan to tell what he calls the whole story about the statues of John C. Calhoun and others.

The City of Charleston History Commission will review the plan Wednesday night to add additional language to the Calhoun statue, the memorial to Wade Hampton, and the Defenders of Fort Sumter monuments amid calls for such monuments to be removed from their place in downtown Charleston.

"I feel that adding to the historical story enables us to more fully understand and learn from our past," Tecklenburg said. "This approach is also a practical reality as the state legislature (by way of the Heritage Act) prohibits the removal of certain historical markers and artifacts without legislative approval."

Tecklenburg laid out his recommendations in a letter sent to the chair of the commission:

  • First, in regard to the John C. Calhoun statue in Marion Square, a plaque to be written by the History Commission (with public input) and approved by City Council. The approved plaque will be erected at the monument and will describe who Calhoun was and clearly elucidate his views on racism, slavery, and white supremacy.
  • Further plaques and explanatory information to be written and erected at other relevant monuments (e.g., Wade Hampton, Defenders of Fort Sumter), public places, parks, or buildings as determined by the Commission and City Council.
  • An online educational component to be created and posted on the City’s website to explain the historical significance of race, racism, slavery, and white supremacy with regard to city monuments, places, or buildings.
  • Improved access and information to the Denmark Vesey monument, including wayfinding signage and internet information.
  • The creation of a significant African American monument at White Point Gardens and/or Riley Waterfront Park as recommended by the Commission and approved by City Council, such as a monument to the First South Carolina Volunteers, escaped slaves from South Carolina who served—at the risk of being hanged—as Union soldiers.
  • Consider the addition of other appropriate markers and memorials, particularly to the contributions of civil and human rights leaders of Charleston’s history.

The commission is not expected to make any decisions or recommendations during the meeting. But ultimately the commission will have to make final recommendations to city council if plaques are to be added to the Calhoun statue.

Calhoun died 11 years before the start of the Civil War, but his support of slavery has still fueled calls for his statue to be taken down as well.

The controversy over the statue is part of a larger call across the country to remove statues to Confederate figures after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia turned violent and deadly.

Removing the statue would require a two-thirds vote of the state legislature because of the Heritage Act of 2000. Several civil rights groups have also called for a repeal of the Heritage Act in hopes that action would allow communities to decide for themselves whether statues should remain or come down.

Tecklenburg appeared before the commission to discuss the plan.

The city plans to draft language for the commission to consider at a future meeting.

In the letter sent to the commission earlier Wednesday, Tecklenburg said he decided to make the recommendations after giving tours of Marion Square to out-of-state designers who were finalists to design a proposed memorial at Mother Emanuel AME Church.

"It became apparent to me during those tours that a more complete telling of the history of Marion Square was needed, to put into historical context the statue of John C. Calhoun and the memorial to Wade Hampton, along with the pivotal history of this special place in our City," Tecklenburg said.

Mother Emanuel AME Church was the site of a shooting that claimed the lives of nine members of the church on June 17, 2015. The man convicted and sentenced to death for the massacre told investigators he had hoped to start a race war.

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