By the time you drink your morning coffee Wednesday, a work crew may have removed the controversial statue of John C. Calhoun from atop a 110-foot pedestal in Marion Square.
As we sent this issue of the newspaper to the printer on Tuesday afternoon, Charleston City Council was on the verge of passing a resolution by Mayor John Tecklenburg to remove the statue. Tecklenburg seemed to have enough votes to win barring some unforeseen action or interference, Marion Square looks a little different Wednesday morning.
It’s about time. For too long, the statue has been a vivid reminder of a white elite that built Charleston’s antebellum wealth on the backs of enslaved Africans.
As vice president (1825-1832), cabinet official and U.S. senator (1832-43; 1845-50), Calhoun is widely recognized as the most brilliant political mind of his day. But an ardent slavery supporter, he used his brainpower to develop the political theory of nullification — which holds that states can nullify federal laws — to buttress the institution of slavery. Some say he is largely responsible for the national fissure that led to the Civil War.
Calhoun’s haughty glare over our city has been a too-visible symbol of the establishment’s arrogance. The statue should be relegated to an institution — a museum or university — that can keep it as a learning tool about our stained history. Or it can gather dust in a warehouse until there’s a clear plan to deal with it.
Meanwhile, there’s more work to do. Of immediate concern are two things: What happens to the soaring pedestal on which the Calhoun statue has been resting and what happens to the scores of monuments to the Confederacy that stretch across South Carolina?
Leave the pedestal for now. There’s been talk of removing the 110-foot base on which the Calhoun statue rested for years. A better idea may be to leave it where it is, empty as the rhetoric of the Lost Cause of the Confederacy. Perhaps it can be a visible display that no one should really be “put up on a pedestal.”
Repeal the state’s Heritage Act. Only 30 of the state’s current 170 legislators were in Columbia in 2000 when the General Assembly passed the Heritage Act, which prevents memorials on public property (Marion Square is owned privately) from being removed. State lawmakers meet this week to talk about public money. They should also repeal the Heritage Act. The time for repeal has come as thousands protest the institutional racism that lingers in the Palmetto State more than 150 years after the end of the Civil War.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, South Carolina has 193 public symbols of the Confederacy. In Charleston County, we have 12, including the Calhoun statue. Now let’s deal with the other 11, including the names of nine roads, one park, the Confederate Defenders of Charleston statue in White Point Gardens and a memorial honoring Confederate General Wade Hampton. We can do more. Let’s get to work.
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