A decision on the text of a proposed plaque next to the Calhoun monument on Marion Square — including whether it goes up at all — has been deferred indefinitely amidst disagreements between Council members and vocal opposition from the segments of public.
Over a dozen anti-plaquers attended Tuesday night’s City Council meeting in opposition of a proposed plaque meant to explain the pro-slavery views of former Vice President of the United States and South Carolina native John C. Calhoun, whose image is memorialized in a statue towering over Marion Square mere yards away from Mother Emanuel church.
Speaking during the citizen participation period, a man went as far as offering the city a $1,000 donation if it erected a monument to the Emanuel Nine instead of adding context to the Calhoun monument.
“I’d like for us to each hear what our feelings are about this important matter in our community,” Tecklenburg said. “Our African-American brothers and sisters in the community — maybe you don’t really feel or understand their longtime feelings walking downtown and seeing that statue.”
In a speech on February 6, 1837, Calhoun said:
I hold that in the present state of civilization, where two races of different origin, and distinguished by color, and other physical differences, as well as intellectual, are brought together, the relation now existing in the slaveholding States between the two, is, instead of an evil, a good–a positive good.
Mitchell and the three other black members of City Council: James Lewis, William Dudley Gregorie, and Keith Waring, told The Post & Courier that they were not likely to vote in support of the finalized, toned-down plaque text that the History Commission presented to City Council in December.
At last night’s meeting, Council member Robert Mitchell recounted his painful history with the monument.
“There could be a place so people who want to go see it can go see it, maybe in a museum,” he said. “I got arrested right there in front of that statue four times, demonstrating during [the civil rights movement] when I was 14 years old, making sure everyone was in the same playing field.
“This is not the way the city of Charleston works, not for us. You couldn’t sit in a restaurant, you couldn’t go in the restroom, you couldn’t even go to Fort Sumter and drink the water out of the fountain. [Calhoun] was one who did not want to abolish slavery.”
The Heritage Act of 2000 prevents the relocation of a Civil War monument without a two-thirds vote from the state House and Senate.
Mayor Tecklenburg ended the impromptu discussion of the plaque by reading a memo addressed to the Council by Citadel history professor Dr. Millicent Brown and civil rights attorney Armand Derfner.
They proposed that members vote to defer a decision on the plaque for one year while the city creates a “city-sponsored and monitored action initiative” to study what the statue means to various sectors of the community.
“For right now, we’re going to continue to defer this matter,” Tecklenburg said after reading the memo.
City Council has taken no action on the plaque after deferring the discussion on Jan. 9.
Jack O’Toole, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office, said that members of Council have “expressed a sense that [the memo] was thoughtful.”