Charleston Mayor: keep Confederate statues, but add context

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – The towering Confederate monuments in Charleston shouldn’t be taken down, and instead should be supplemented with historical context about why they were built, the city’s mayor said Thursday.

“It’s part of our whole story. Rather than take away monuments and statues… under the constraints that we’re under, we should tell the full story. Tell the truth, tell the whole truth,” said Mayor Tecklenburg. “I believe it will set us free and set the stage for a message of respect in the world today and hope for a world that is better than 150 years ago when all this happened.”

He is asking a commission of historians to make suggestions about how to add in-depth stories that fully explain the landmarks that are under fierce debate. He suggested plaques as an option for the commission to consider.

“When you have a full telling of history, you tend not to repeat it and make the mistakes of the past and recreate the sins of the past,” the mayor said. “It can be more than a plaque, and I leave that up to the commission to come up with the recommendations.”

The mayor’s remarks come as many cities across the South engage in debates over Confederate symbols, prompted by recent violence that broke out in Charlottesville, Va., over a statue of Robert E. Lee in a city park.

The Charlottesville violence included a rally by white supremacists that led to the death of one woman and injuries to 19 others when a man drove his car into a group of counter-protesters. It has resulted in other cities, including Baltimore and Lexington, Ky., removing or relocating local monuments.

Opponents argue the monuments are offensive relics and symbols of white supremacy, while supporters call them a part of history that should be preserved.

Tecklenburg said the city can start with some of the most visible confederate monuments that are prominent fixtures in Marion Square, one of John C. Calhoun and the other of Wade Hampton,  

Calhoun was a former U.S. vice president and staunch defender of slavery, and Wade Hampton was a Confederate officer.

“I view this as a process that will take time,” the mayor said. “I think there is a bigger picture here of telling Charleston telling the whole truth about our history, even though it adds these sins of slavery, of Jim Crow, of bigotry and use that as a stepping stone for inspiring hope and people respecting one another. And that’s what I hope about all of this.”

The Calhoun monument updates were already under consideration a few weeks ago, he said, and the process to add a broader narrative at its site preempted calls from the NAACP and National Action Network to remove them following the violence in Charlottesville.

The commission will consider adding new plaques at the site of the monuments, or explanatory language.

Confederate monuments in South Carolina are protected by the Heritage Act. Under the law, it requires two-thirds majority from state lawmakers to change any historical monument. One of the rare times lawmakers changed a monument was in 2004 when they added the name of the late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond’s biracial daughter to his statue.

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