Two South Carolina legislators are conspiring to mute attempts to fight inequality and enact social progress. Bill Chumley and Mike Burns want to erect a monument that honors black Confederate soldiers. It’s an effort to “get the truth out about what really happened” according to Chumley and an attempt to “end all this foolishness” according to Burns. Their proposed monument would honor black Confederate soldiers. The problem is that this is not historically accurate and it is nothing more than a strategy to maintain the status quo.

Chumley and Burns are perpetuating a popular, false narrative that suggests slaves enjoyed being slaves so much that they fought alongside whites to protect South Carolina so that they could continue the joy of being treated like animals. That thought is borderline insane. Of course, legislators are known for having crafty tongues. In the same way people twisted small pieces of the Bible out of context to control slaves, these men are twisting history to shine a more favorable light on Southern slavery and shut the mouths of those fighting for equality.

History does show that blacks served roles in the Confederate military. They were forced to be cooks and servants. It wasn’t until the last month of battle that Confederate leaders suggested using a small, select group of slaves as soldiers in exchange for freedom. Documentation shows that a few descendants of slaves received payment for Confederate service.

However, it was a fraction of what white soldiers received and it was quickly ended by making payment available only to soldiers, which excluded “negroes” who had not been allowed to serve in that capacity.
It should be easy to understand why a giant monument to John C. Calhoun, a man who stated that slavery was not a “necessary evil” but a “positive good,” is terribly offensive. It should be easy to question a monument honoring Benjamin “Pitchfork” Tillman, a Senator who supported lynch mobs and legislation that disenfranchised black voters. It should be simple to rethink the Statehouse monument to Marion Sims, who conducted gynecological experiments on slave women without anesthesia and got rich from his Nazi-esque research, should come down. In a world of equality, it should be easy to see why Confederate monuments should not overwhelmingly honor white supremacists and excuse racism.

Of the numerous monuments at the Statehouse, there is only one to African-Americans that was erected as a compromise to keep the Confederate flag on the Statehouse grounds. That should tell you something.

Many South Carolinians cling desperately to a history that refuses to acknowledge the sins of the Confederacy. Moreover, legislators like Chumley and Burns celebrate it and place their ignorance on full display by suggesting a monument that praises the Confederacy with pseudo-slave soldiers will “take some of this bitterness out of play.” It is, in fact, a slap in the face to all minorities.

What is the purpose of their monument? There is no shortage of memorials in South Carolina, especially at the Statehouse, honoring Confederates. There is, however, a great shortage of formal recognition for those who fought to destroy slavery.

If, as they claim, they want to attempt to memorialize parts of South Carolina history that are truly neglected in this state, perhaps they should abandon their bill and jump on the one being proposed by the bi-partisan partnership of Greg Gregory (R-Lancaster) and Darrell Jackson (D-Richland) honoring Robert Smalls, a slave who commandeered a Confederate ship and delivered it to Union ships blockading Charleston harbor. He later became an elected member of the S.C. House and Senate as well as a U.S. House Representative. How about a monument recognizing the slaves behind the Stono Rebellion?

How do we have so many monuments celebrating white supremacists at a government facility with almost no counterpoint? Realize that the atrocities of slavery, which a Confederate victory would have perpetuated, are similar to that of Nazi concentration camps. The difference is that the abuse of blacks was an accepted way of life, the philosophies of which continue to influence American politics and culture today. Germans have formally denounced the Nazi philosophy.

Why is it so imperative to fight any notion that the Confederacy was anything but holy? Why is it so challenging to acknowledge the evil nature of slavery and racism, inherent in the Confederacy, unless you’re a racist? If you can acknowledge that slavery is evil and racism is wrong, then it should be easy to recognize the virtue in honoring those individuals who worked to destroy slavery instead of honoring those who would beat and hang a black man for looking at a white woman.

Burns claims their monument is an attempt to bring people together by showing how blacks and whites worked together for the Confederacy in the 1860s. I’m not sure what history book he’s using. It wasn’t a partnership. It was slavery and it was evil. Maybe if he were more interested in truly working together in the present time, he wouldn’t have to make up a ridiculous history where blacks enjoyed the crack of the whip. Of course, I don’t mean any disrespect, master.

Stay cool. Support City Paper.

City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.