Confederates and white supremacists may soon be packed up and whisked out of public view at the United States Capitol — at least in statue form. Each state can commission up to two statues to represent it in Washington in the National Statuary Hall Collection. Both South Carolina’s would be vanquished if a bill passed last week by a bipartisan group of House members makes it through the U.S. Senate.
Figures in the capitol collection are selected by each state from among deceased former residents deemed “illustrious for their historic renown or for distinguished civic or military services,” as laid out in federal law.
A statue of John C. Calhoun, who served as vice president from 1825 to 1832 and whose ideas on states rights helped form the foundation for Southern secession, stands in the Capitol crypt, a gift from S.C. in 1910. The marble likeness of Wade Hampton, the former Confederate lieutenant general who fought to reverse progress from Reconstruction with violent voter suppression targeting Black South Carolinians, is one of the first figures tourists and students encounter in the Capitol Visitor’s Center.
Calhoun is singled out for removal in House Resolution 3005, passed last week with support from Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California. Hampton, as a soldier for the Confederate States, would be plucked from his place as well.
If South Carolina’s statues are ordered to be removed, who should replace the Palmetto State? We have some ideas (in alphabetical order):
Septima Clark – A Charleston-born teacher and activist, Clark fought for racial equity and community empowerment. As a leader in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Clark is credited with pioneering “citizenship schools” that helped register hundreds of thousands of Black Southern voters and break down opposition in the fight for civil rights.
Sarah and Angelina Grimke – Born into a slave-holding, aristocratic family in Charleston, the Grimke sisters spoke out for abolition and women’s rights from young ages, remembered today among the earliest intellectual leaders in the cause for women’s suffrage.
Ronald McNair – Growing up in Lake City during a time when NASA astronauts were national celebrities, McNair defied racial norms to become an MIT-educated physicist and one of America’s first Black astronauts. In 1986, McNair was one of seven crew members who died when the shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after takeoff. The landmark federal McNair Scholars program today provides financial aid for underrepresented students in math and science.
William Moultrie – Outgunned and fighting from an unfinished fort built from packed earth and palmetto logs, Moultrie’s regiment of untested colonial soldiers saved Charleston from British capture in 1776 at the Battle of Sullivan’s Island, in the early days of American Revolution. Today, we celebrate Carolina Day in honor of the battle at the fort that now bears his name.
South Carolina’s long history is full of leaders who would represent our state well, but Clark and Moultrie capture the unique and complex South Carolina story. The U.S. Capitol serves as “America’s classroom,” as U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn said last week. “And we ought to be teaching in this hall, that which is wholesome about this country.”