Friday, January 18, 2008

Ben Tillman Statue in South Carolina

Ah, there's more monument law in the news.

Just in time for the South Carolina primaries is a controversy about a statue of South Carolina politician (a symbol of the worst of Jim Crow for many), which is on the state house grounds. The story, from the South Carolina's The State newspaper is here (thanks to a pointer from feminist law prof Ann Bartow and one of the leading scholars of monument law).

Some want the statue removed:
“I just don’t think his statue should be on State House grounds,” said Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, noting Tillman for years made speeches about killing African-Americans who sought their rights.
Others would like to see a plaque that puts the statue into perspective:
“A plaque would stand a better chance of passage because it simply tells the truth,” said Rep. Joe Neal, D-Richland. “History is what it is, and there’s an argument that you can’t change it (by removing a statue). But what you can do is tell the truth.”
Among the many interesting issues these kinds of discussions raise are what meaning did the statue served to the people who put it up? Our friends at provided the image of the Tillman statue. You might notice that the writing on the base shows it was put up in 1940 by the "legislature, the Democratic Party, and private citizens of the state of South Carolina." Inscriptions are sometimes as useful in interpreting a monument as the images on it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That statute, along with the Confederate soldier statue placed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (facing North, of course) and the Confederate flag right behind it, is one of the biggest and most heartbreaking embarrassments plaguing South Carolina. Tillman was a horrible racist who not only led so-called "rifle clubs" that massacred black men and women during and after Reconstruction, but he had the gall to brag about it. He played a very active role in both the Hamburg and Wilmington "Riots" - which is quite the euphemism, considering that these riots were nothing more than excuses for white men to viciously murder black men, women, and children.
This statue is a disgrace not only to South Carolina, but to human decency. Unlike Germany, which underwent de-Nazification after World War II, the American South never had a similar process. Perhaps if the latter-day racists of my state would finally own up to the horrid outrages perpetrated by white leaders of the postbellum era, our society could start the process of moving forward together.