A stone Confederate soldier has stood at parade rest on the grounds of the Greenwood County Courthouse for more than 116 years. On July 4, protesters who say this monument represents the ongoing legacy of slavery and systemic racism will ask for the monument to be taken down.
Unveiled to a crowd of at least 3,000 people on Oct. 22, 1903, the Confederate monument features a granite base inscribed with the words “Our Confederate soldiers.” On the other sides are dedications and inscriptions honoring the soldiers who fought against the Union, while one side tells viewers it was built by the Ladies Memorial Association of Greenwood County.
Judges, generals, mayors and officials of all kinds came from miles to the unveiling ceremony by train, according to the Oct. 29, 1903 edition of The Greenwood Index. Augusta Judge William T. Gary was the guest speaker. He gave a lengthy speech to the crowd, decrying what he described as northern oppression and exalting secession as a patriotic and noble cause.
But Bruce Wilson, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Greenwood alongside Travis Greene, said the cause was nothing but racist. The monument standing on the courthouse grounds, he said, celebrates oppression and slavery, and he said it cannot continue to stand.
At 4 p.m. July 4, regional Black Lives Matter representatives and supporters will come together at the monument, located now along the south side of the courthouse at 520 Monument St.
“Of course it’s a racist symbol. There’s no if’s, and’s or but’s about that,” Wilson said. “The world is ready for a change, so we need to put these racist symbols in the just hands of history.”
He said if NASCAR can ban the flying of the Confederate flag at races, then statues such as this one need to be taken down as well. While for some they serve as reminders of relatives who fought for a cause, Wilson said that, for people of color, they are a painful reminder that at the heart of that cause was the continuation of slavery.
“What really hurts me more than anything is that there are some in the white community that don’t get it, that don’t understand how painful this is,” he said. “When I come to you and say, ‘This is painful to me,’ and you still don’t understand that and don’t try to understand that, and you don’t see that my children will have to feel like this — that’s what really hurts me.”
To those who say monuments preserve history, Wilson said that’s the job of museums. While this monument was erected in 1903, he said many monuments throughout the South were erected at the height of Jim Crow oppression in response to the increasing support for desegregation and civil rights. This isn’t the group’s first time advocating for the monument’s removal. In 2019, Greene sent a letter asking Greenwood County officials to remove the monument, but officials told him the Heritage Act prohibits the county from removing the monument without approval from the state Legislature.
Adopted in 2000, the Heritage Act made it illegal to change or alter any monument on public property without a two-thirds majority vote in the General Assembly.
Protests and efforts continue nationwide to remove monuments and statues commemorating historical figures, and sometimes these monuments are vandalized or torn down by force. Seeing this, S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson released an opinion Thursday saying he thinks the Heritage Act is constitutional, and he is prepared to support that argument in court.
“My defense of the Heritage Act is not a defense of those parts or acts of our history that we find abhorrent,” Wilson said Thursday. “My defense of the Heritage Act is based on my sincere belief that we should follow the rule of law. This means following the laws that our duly elected Legislature has passed and prosecuting those individuals who intentionally flout the law by illegally destroying public property.”