Groups call for removal of Calhoun statue, repeal of Heritage Act

Updated: Jun. 16, 2020 at 7:02 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Civil rights groups demanded that the City of Charleston remove the statue of John C. Calhoun from Marion Square.

The National Action Network, the Charleston chapter of the NAACP and some members of the South Carolina General Assembly pushed for the statue’s removal at a Tuesday morning news conference held at the base of the statue.

The Rev. Nelson Rivers III said he contacted Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg last week and said it was time to remove the Calhoun monument.

The City of Charleston owns the statue.

“The time has come to take down the monuments to honor the evil that was done in the name of Charleston,” he said. “In the name of South Carolina. Don’t act like Charleston is not exactly what makes statues like Calhoun possible, he’s buried here. The state paid $3,000 to bury him here.”

Rivers referred to the massacre at Mother Emanuel AME Church from June 17, 2015, saying that the reaction to the tragedy led people to offer their thoughts and prayers.

“We don’t want any more thoughts,” Rivers said. “We don’t want your prayers. We want action.”

Calhoun was a statesman, the seventh vice president of the United States and a supporter of slavery.

They are also calling for the South Carolina Heritage Act to be repealed.

The Heritage Act is a law that protects some state monuments, markers or memorials from being removed without legislative approval. It requires a two-third’s vote of the state legislature.

The National Action Network says the law was adopted in 2000 to protect “the Confederate Battle Flag and other symbols and monuments of hate.”

Democratic Sen. Marlon Kimpson, who represents District 42 in Charleston and Dorchester Counties, said repealing the Heritage Act “removes the impediment to local governments for removing statues and the impediment for renaming buildings and streets.”

“There’s a view that the current Heritage Act is unconstitutional...," Kimpson said. "All votes in the General Assembly only require 50 percent plus one. To enact a statute that requires a super-majority in my view is unconstitutional.”

Kimpson said a bill is currently under discussion to build a bipartisan coalition that would result in enough votes to actually repeal the act.

State Representative Wendell Gilliard is also calling on the city to remove the statue.

“When this statue comes down, it’s not just about taking it down, taking a statue down,” Gilliard said. “It’s about raising the hope of the City of Charleston, the state of South Carolina, raising the hope of America. The statues of hate have to come down. Put it in a museum where if belongs if you are that much concerned about history. But it does not belong 110 feet in the sky. There is a difference between the words remember and reverence. When you stick something 110 feet up in the sky, that’s a form of reference.”

In the wake of protests sparked by the death of George Floyd, people in cities across the nation are pushing for the removal of Confederate monuments.

“The voices of outrage that came in the wake of the public lynching of George Floyd have taken a different level in the movement,” Rivers said.

Carl Beckmann who is the chairman board of The Washington Light Infantry and Sumter Guards, and who owns Marion Square says in his opinion,"We’re of the mindset you can’t erase history and can’t change history.”

There’s an online petition calling for the removal of the statue and the renaming of Calhoun Street. It had nearly 19,000 signatures as of Tuesday evening.

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