While protesters call for the removal of a monument dedicated to Greenwood’s Confederate soldiers that stands on the county courthouse grounds, others in Columbia are calling for the repeal of a law that prohibits local officials from making any decision about the monument.
The Heritage Act, a law passed as part of a compromise to remove the Confederate battle flag from atop the Statehouse in 2000, blocks the removal of monuments, markers and other fixtures from public property. If the monument is named or erected in honor of the Confederacy or the civil rights movement and is located on city, county or state property, it requires a two-thirds majority vote by both houses of the General Assembly to remove, change or rename it.
“I think you can disobey the Heritage Act, but you subject yourself to litigation, some type of civil litigation, by someone on the other side,” Greenwood County Council Chairman Steve Brown said.
Brown said the Heritage Act is the first hurdle to overcome by any effort to remove the 1903 monument on the courthouse grounds.
“I think that’s the people’s property,” he said. “It belongs to everyone, and I think there are people in our community who, for a legitimate reason, feel that the people honored by that statue promoted slavery.”
Brown said after considering the position of the monument’s detractors and doing his best to put himself in their shoes, he thinks it should come down. If the Heritage Act weren’t in the way, he said he’d like to hear someone come to county council with a plan to relocate the monument onto private property, so the original intent of honoring Confederate veterans can still be maintained off public land.
Fellow council member Edith Childs said she personally supports the monument coming down but recognizes the power to do so lies in the state legislature. Until they decide otherwise, she said county officials will follow state law. She acknowledged the hurt some people feel seeing monuments like these but doesn’t want division over a monument to split Greenwood’s people into factions.
“Now is a time for us to come together because no matter what happens, we’re still on this Earth together,” she said.
Councilman Mark Allison also said it doesn’t make much of a difference what he thinks about the monument, so long as the state holds all the cards. If the act gets repealed, he said he’d be open to council sitting down to hear locals’ opinions and discuss what comes next.
“I’d like to hear from the public in that case,” he said. “When we did the penny sales tax initiative, we reached out to the people to see how they feel.”
Regarding the Heritage Act, he said he hadn’t read up enough on the law to have an opinion on whether the power to modify these monuments should rest with the state or with local officials. Councilman Theo Lane shared a similar stance, saying the county is bound by the law as it is, but that he’d like to hear from locals what they think of the monument to better inform his opinion. He said he personally thinks confederate symbols don’t represent current governments, and don’t belong on government property, and he supports finding a place to relocate them to. He understands what he sees as the intent of the Heritage Act, but said he thinks local governments would have a better understanding of their needs and desires.
Looking at it from the perspective of the protesters asking for Confederate monuments to come down, Councilman Chuck Moates said he understands their passion. He said Greenwood’s Confederate monument stands dedicated to people who participated in a four-year insurrection against the United States, and he described the people who fought for the Confederacy as nothing short of terrorists.
“I can’t understand how people will want it to continue to be there, commemorating a four-year insurrection,” he said. “I can’t give honor to that kind of effort. I’m a patriot.”
There has always been tension between state and local governments in South Carolina, and Moates said he thinks the Heritage Act is one of the ways the state has extended its power over local governments. He supports the notion that local people know their needs, and should have the right and freedom to make their own decisions.
Councilmen Robbie Templeton and Councilwoman Melissa Spencer couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Greenwood’s delegation weighs inAt the state level, those who would have sway over the monument’s fate had their own opinions on the monument’s future. Sen. Floyd Nicholson, who in 2015 introduced legislation to remove the designation of “Colored” from a segregated war memorial Uptown. A legal challenge to the Heritage Act was quashed when a resident changed the memorial himself, making a lawsuit to change the monument irrelevant.
“It’s up to local communities what they want to do about various monuments,” Nicholson said, “and if it takes the Heritage Act getting changed in order to do that, I think we should do that.”
He said he doesn’t like the idea of monuments being erected on capital buildings and courthouses, as they’ll always be divisive and these public spaces should be as inclusive as possible.
In the state’s House of Representatives, state Rep. John McCravy took to social media to express his dismay over efforts to remove such monuments. He said these statues and monuments aren’t erected to celebrate slavery or racism, but to honor soldiers who fought for their land and their states.
“I believe that there’s a left-wing movement in our country that’s trying to shame our heritage,” he said. “They want to shame America, they want to shame capitalism and the way they do that is by talking about the negative things in our past that our nation has done.”
McCravy said he stands firmly by the Heritage Act, and that the law exists to protect monuments throughout the state from those who would seek to erase their original intent. As for the protesters calling for monuments to be taken down, he asked why they aren’t protesting the continuation of slavery elsewhere in the world instead of focusing on the legacy of slavery in America.
Opposing McCravy on the November ballot is Democratic candidate Denise Waldrep, who had also been vocal on social media, but about her support for the removal of these types of monuments from public grounds and transferring them to museums and private spaces.
“I have become more and more aware of the intimidation and pain that is generated for the descendants of slaves who see these monuments,” she said.
An artist herself, Waldrep said she sees the opportunity to replace what she sees as symbols of oppression with monuments honoring people who stood for equality and justice for all people. The management of monuments should be a local matter, she said, and the Heritage Act has outlived its use.
She noted that Gen. Robert E. Lee opposed the erection of monuments to the Confederacy, writing in 1869 it would be wiser “... not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.”
State Rep. Anne Parks noted Greenwood’s controversial history with the Heritage Act and said she’s torn. Though the legislature returns to session in September, they’re limited in what issues they can take up, and the Heritage Act is not among them. Still, she said she thinks counties should be able to have the final say when it comes to monuments on their property, not the state.
“I’ve tried to explain to the groups that it would take legislation, which wouldn’t be able to even be filed until December for next year,” she said.
State Sen. Mike Gambrell and state Rep. Stewart Jones couldn’t be reached Friday for comment.