Two Upstate lawmakers have suggested a monumentally bad idea.
Republican House members Bill Chumley and Mike Burns say they want to honor African-Americans who fought for the Confederacy with a statue on Statehouse grounds.
These men, they argue, deserve a monument so they aren’t forgotten.
Unfortunately, it just looks like a cynical ploy to advance the revisionist claim that the Civil War was not sparked by issues of slavery.
But there’s another reason this is a terrible proposal, aside from the fact that most black Confederates were actually slaves forced to work as as cooks or servants.
The truth is, we already have too many Civil War monuments at the Statehouse.
There are 31 markers or monuments spread across those 18 acres in downtown Columbia, and seven of them — about 23 percent — are dedicated to the War Between the States.
That’s what you call overkill.
South Carolina has almost 350 years of rich, interesting and significant history. Thousands of schoolchildren visit the Statehouse every year, and it’s important to give them a sense of all that history.
Not just four horrible years.
Numbers don’t lie
South Carolina is the birthplace of pioneers and patriots, innovators and explorers who have made this country a better place.
Some of the most notable civil rights activists have called this state home. We have sent our children into space, and one walked on the moon.
Larry Doby of Camden was the second African-American to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball.
Dizzy Gillespie, perhaps the greatest trumpet player in jazz history, was from Cheraw.
Sarah Grimke and her sister, Angelina Grimke Weld, were national pioneers of abolition and suffrage, despite openly hostile opposition in Charleston, their hometown.
This is our history, yet 16 of 31 monuments on Statehouse grounds memorialize war. There are five monuments to the American Revolution, three to the Spanish-American War and even one to the Mexican-American War.
To be sure, these are important parts of South Carolina history. But are they more than half the state’s story?
Those numbers seem especially egregious when there is but one monument to the achievements of African-Americans. To be fair, it is one of the largest, most epic monuments on the grounds. Many notable achievements are referenced, even if names aren’t included. But ultimately, it is trying to tell the story of an entire race in one place.
When you consider there is only one monument to women — and that’s the Confederate Women’s Memorial — it makes South Carolina look mostly like an incubator for white male war-mongers.
Lawmakers recently were asked to put a monument on Statehouse grounds in honor of the Rev. Joseph A. DeLaine, a Clarendon County native who sparked a movement that ended segregation in this country. Everyone should know who he is, and what he did.
For that matter, the state should honor Septima Poinsette Clark, whose civil rights work was so vital to improving this country that Martin Luther King Jr. insisted she accompany him to accept the Nobel Peace Prize.
If lawmakers want to honor African-Americans, that’s where they should start.
Education or misinformation?
Sure, South Carolina has more pressing needs than monuments.
Many people don’t have health care, and the state continues to struggle with schools. But the debate keeps coming back to bronze statues, so maybe there’s a way to fold that into education.
It would help if people learned a little bit of our history instead of politicizing it. Which is what some have done for more than a century.
The problem many people have with Civil War monuments is that most of them were erected after Reconstruction to glorify, if not rewrite, a past that was none too pleasant for a lot of our ancestors.
The answer here is not more diverse Civil War monuments, it’s more diverse monuments period. This is not about quotas or squishy political correctness; it’s about telling an accurate history of the whole state.
It’s unconscionable that the Statehouse hosts a statue to Ben Tillman — a raging segregationist who undermined civil rights and participated in lynchings — but not one for DeLaine or Clark.
When people bring up the horrors of slavery, or the sins of segregation, they are often told to get over the past. Yet the people who say that are usually the same ones most shoving their own history down everyone’s throat.
We need to get beyond this preoccupation with the Civil War and tell the other stories of South Carolina.
Then we can truly say that old times here are not forgotten.