City Council postpones decision on plaque wording for John C. Calhoun monument

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - It's uncertain what's ahead when it comes to the wording of a proposed plaque for the John C. Calhoun statue in downtown Charleston.

City Council deferred making a decision at the council meeting Monday night.

Last August, Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg asked the Commission on History to add more context to the plaque to clearly explain Calhoun's views that were in favor racism, slavery and white supremacy.

The statue sits in Marion Square in downtown Charleston.

Some say it's a symbol of heritage while other see it as a symbol of hate.

Charleston City Councilman William Dudley Gregorie would like to see it removed.

"I don't think there are any words that you can put on that statue that will make a difference," he said."There's nothing you can do other than move it to a museum in a safe place."

He along with the other council members will vote on whether or not to approve wording on a proposed plaque to accompany the monument.

"All my life, particularly as a child, I walked to Sunday School to Mother Emanuel," Gregorie said. "We had to pass that [statue]. Our parents had to explain to us who he was and what he did to our people. Those messages from our parents are forever there for me."

Gregorie is against adding a plaque for more context, he says it won't help.

However City Councilman Marvin Wagner supports the idea of adding context if it's done carefully.

"As I said in council, I didn't think it was finished," he said."I thought it needed further clarification on a couple of the sentences."

Part of the proposal reads:

"The statue remains standing today as a reminder that many South Carolinians once viewed Calhoun as worthy of memorialization even though his political positions included his support of race-based slavery, an institution repugnant to the core ideas and values of the United States of America."

Wagner says he wants it to be clear on the plaque that those were the values for a lot of people during that time.

"Today, 2018, the core ideas and values of the United States of American do not have white supremacy, slavery or anything of that nature in them. This would be a true statement today," Wagner said.  "But not in 1858 and not in 1890. That was the clarification I would like to see.

City Council is expected to vote on whether or not they support the wording of the plaque at its next council meeting.

"There's nothing that words could do to soften it, to explain it because we lived it," Gregorie said.

Public input is welcomed on this matter.

"This is going to last for posterity. Let's do it right." Wagner said.

Last summer protesters and activists gathered in downtown Charleston to call for the removal of the monument following the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va.

Here's the proposed language for a plaque at the John C. Calhoun Monument in full: 

This monument to John C. Calhoun (1782-1850), erected in 1896, was the culmination of efforts begun in 1858 to commemorate his career. It was erected at a time, after Reconstruction, when most white South Carolinians believed in white supremacy, and the state enacted legislation establishing racial segregation.

These ideas are now universally condemned.

Calhoun served as Vice-President of the United States under two presidents, as U.S. Secretary of War, as U.S. Secretary of State, as a U.S. Senator from South Carolina and as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. A political theorist, he was the author of two important works on the U.S. Constitution and the Federal Government.

A member of the Senate's "Great Triumvirate," which included Daniel Webster of Massachusetts and Henry Clay of Kentucky, Calhoun championed states' rights and nullification, the right of an individual state to invalidate a federal law which it viewed as unconstitutional.

Unlike many of the founding fathers, who viewed the enslavement of Africans as "a necessary evil" possibly to be overcome, Calhoun defended the institution of race-based slavery as a "positive good."

The statue remains standing today as a reminder that many South Carolinians once viewed Calhoun as worthy of memorialization even though his political positions included his support of race-based slavery, an institution repugnant to the core ideas and values of the United States of America.

Historic preservation, to which Charleston is dedicated, includes this monument as a lesson to future generations of the importance of historical context when examining individuals and events in our state's past. 

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