CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Charleston city leaders have approved a resolution to remove the statue of John C. Calhoun from Marion Square.
Charleston City Council voted unanimously on the resolution Tuesday night. Calhoun’s statue is the latest monument removal in a wave of similar actions throughout the country following George Floyd’s death.
“We have a sense of unity moving forward for racial conciliation and for unity in this city,” Mayor John Tecklenburg said following the vote. ”God bless you all.”
It took nearly two hours to reach the decision during Tuesday evening’s meeting as public comments were heard, and council members spoke about the issue.
Councilmember Kevin Shealy said he supported the statue relocation for a number of reasons including to bring the community together and for the families and leaders that have emerged from the Mother Emanuel tragedy.
He also addressed the peaceful protesters and thanked them for staying peaceful and expressing themselves, and he had other words for those who vandalized and damaged property.
“For those who did harm to our city, you’ve accomplished nothing here,” he said. “Other than adding to your criminal record. This has nothing to do with you. You’re not the reason for my decision.”
Councilmember Keith Waring said city council was moving forward with the relocation of the statue for a better community.
“This is a holy city,” Waring said. ”God comes first. And that’s what makes this place so special. We can be an example of a nation and indeed the world.”
Councilmember Peter Shahid said the statue has been a symbol that has divided the community for a century, and said it was time to do away with it and look to other symbols for unity.
“The statue has served as a symbol of division in our community and we don’t need that,” he said. “We need symbols that unite us that bring us together not tear us apart.”
Tuesday’s decision came after the city did legal research to first figure out whether or not they owned the statue and could take it down. Some people feel like the statue is a part of history, and said it should remain up.
“The purpose of this resolution is not to disregard our past but to honor our lessons, not to erase our history, but to write a new chapter in history,” Tecklenburg said.
Nearly 300 people submitted written comments in favor of removing the statue, and around 50 people sent comments stating that it should stay up.
City officials said they will be consulting with historians and a committee to find a new place for the statue. Tecklenburg said he would like the statue to be moved to a local museum or a higher education learning facility where it can be placed in full historical context, and be preserved and protected.
Before Tuesday’s vote, a majority of council members said they supported the resolution which will bring the statue down from atop a 100-foot monument. The vote follows Monday night’s protests between one group that wanted the statue to remain in place and another that wanted it removed because of Calhoun’s pro-slavery stance.
Tecklenburg said the Heritage Act, a state law which forbids the removal of war related markers in South Carolina, does not pertain to the Calhoun statue.
“Well folks, this is not a war memorial,” Tecklenburg said. “By [removing the statue] I believe we bring peace.”
Tecklenburg said he was confident that city council has full authority to order the relocation since the statue belongs to the city and is located on grounds owned by a private party.
Charleston police closed Marion Square at 8 p.m. Monday night over fears of violence. It has since been reopened.
Calhoun, born in 1782 in Abbeville, South Carolina, was a statesman, serving in a variety of roles including U.S. senator from South Carolina, a U.S. secretary of state, secretary of war and the nation's seventh vice president. He died in 1850, 11 years before the start of the Civil War.
Calhoun’s support of slavery has prompted calls for the statue’s removal from Marion Square for years.