Speaker’s statement on other State House monuments

My attention is not focused on Tillman's statue at this time.

My attention is not focused on Tillman’s statue at this time.

I meant to post this yesterday when it came in, before it was in the paper:

Speaker Lucas Statement on Debate Over Public Monuments and Buildings

(Columbia, SC) – Today, House Speaker Jay Lucas (District 65-Darlington) issued the following statement to reiterate his position surrounding future debate over public monuments and memorials.  In light of the recent tragedy, several South Carolina universities and colleges have formally asked or suggested the General Assembly address changes or exceptions to the South Carolina Heritage Act.  This law, which passed in 2000, protects all monuments, historical markers, street names, and buildings named for historical figures or events.

“The South Carolina House of Representatives will not engage in or debate the specifics of public monuments, memorials, state buildings, road names or any other historical markers. The General Assembly, the House in particular, made it abundantly clear during the debate of the confederate flag that the only issue they were willing to discuss was the placement of the battle flag on the north lawn of the State House. We reached a swift resolution last week and in doing so put an end to this discussion. Debate over this issue will not be expanded or entertained throughout the remainder of my time as Speaker.”

I’m satisfied with that, and I fully understand that the speaker, who just did yeoman’s work on getting the flag down, would be uninterested in any more battles over stuff on the State House grounds.

Before I move on, however, just to get certain points on the record, I wish to make these observations:

  • I have never promised NOT to advocate to remove other items from the State House grounds. What I have said (or at least what I thought) was that the Confederate flag that flew there until a week ago was in its own, special category, qualitatively as well as quantitatively different from anything else on the grounds in terms of its political significance. And that is why I have concerned myself with that and only that with regard to the grounds.
  • If I were ever to advocate to remove or amend (as Todd Rutherford suggests) anything on the grounds, it would be the Ben Tillman statue. My longtime newspaper was founded to fight the Tillman machine, and its first editor was murdered by one of its capos. My own ancestors, who actually lived next door to Tillman in Washington, took a very dim view of him. And my ancestors and newspaper were right: He may be the nastiest piece of work ever to wield political power in his state. Which puts him, rather like the flag, in a special category of his own.
  • I have NO interest in fighting such a battle at this time. I’m enjoying the reconciliation and togetherness that bringing down the flag has engendered in our state, and I intend to bask in it for the foreseeable future. I have NEVER been guilty of the kinds of intentions that neoConfederates ascribed to flag opponents — some sort of Orwellian desire to remove all reminders of the Confederate past. I’ve never been even slightly interested in that, and I would not want in any way to give them a reason to think their “slippery slope” argument was even vaguely justified. And even though Tillman is a separate issue from the Confederacy, I’m not interested in addressing him for now. And probably not for the rest of Lucas’ tenure as speaker, although I’m always open to a good argument.

28 thoughts on “Speaker’s statement on other State House monuments

  1. Burl Burlingame

    It’s easier to explaining to future generations what an a-hole Tillman was with a statue to point at. Besides, you can organize an annual water balloon throw at the statue on Confederate Surrender Day.

  2. Kathryn Fenner

    I agree on Tillman. I can argue for any Confederate soldier, that he was doing his duty as he saw it at the time. Tillman was aggressively evil. Those at the time even saw it, such as Gonzales.

  3. David Carlton

    “He may be the nastiest piece of work ever to wield political power in his state.”

    Actually, I still thinks he holds second place to my old buddy Coley Blease. I don’t think Tillman ever endorsed a guy killing a doctor for giving his daughter a checkup at school.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Yes, other historians I know — including Cole Blease Graham — would put him right up there, or down there. I just don’t know as much about him. Of course, he started out as a Tillman man, right? So to that extent, we can blame Tillman for him, too.

      He just took Tillmanism to a more populist place, I think. Right?

      1. Dave Crockett

        I took the required SC History class in seventh grade back in 1965 and I cannot recall any references to Coley Blease. Now I am more educated. I’m also fascinated that at least three different websites found by Google carry the exact same verbiage on Blease’s career, prompting me to wonder if the plaigarism he was accused of continues in his name on the Internet…

  4. Ralph Hightower

    It’s not monuments, but license plates that the General Assembly should address next, but specialty plates.

    The Confederate license plate should be withdrawn. But the Sons of Confederate Veterans will probably raise a helluva protest since I think a portion of the plate sales goes to the organization. Well, they could just raise their membership fees.

    But, South Carolina has way too many specialty plates! Why are there plates for out of state universities such as Georgia, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Alabama, and others? The only out of state college/university plates that South Carolina should offer are the service academies:: Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Merchant Marine.

    1. Mark Stewart

      SC should offer none for in state or out of state schools.

      They imply the govt gives a rip about education; which it doesn’t.

    2. Pat

      I totally agree that speciality plates have gotten out of hand, but it would be politically hard to pull them back. With the new uniformly designed plate, I’ve already heard a Clemson fan complain that she didn’t get the tag she was expecting. There ought to be a moratorium against new plates and then maybe set some parameters on the kind of plates offered – perhaps tie it to state agencies only.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        There should be no specialty plates. License plates exist for easy identification by law enforcment. An SC plate should be easily recognizable as such, with easy-to-read letters and numbers — period.

        They should be as plain as possible — like New Jersey’s.

        1. Pat

          Totally agree, Brad, but legislators are afraid of doing that. Even the sheriffs were careful how they responded, when they were asked.

        2. Ralph Hightower

          I don’t mind a standard scenic license plate. But, oh boy, when they get it wrong. There was a big uproar about South Carolina’s plate that featured the Carolina Wren. I’ve seen other state plates that identified the state based on the background.

          1. Kathryn Fenner

            I thought the wren and jessamine was beautiful, but my birder friends and family were perturbed that the wren was the wrong color.
            I vote indigo with white letters and a palmetto in the center.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Well, in the case of Texas. But that only applies to Texas, right? The state did not want to issue the plates, and SCOTUS ruled that it had the power to refuse to do so.

        Or am I remembering incorrectly?

        1. Bryan Caskey

          Yes, but the same reasoning will apply here- it would be the identical fact pattern. Once SCOTUS rules on an issue on one circuit, no other circuit below (like our Fourth Circuit) is going to contradict them. If SC wants to drop the Confederate Flag from its license plates, no one can really argue with them that they cannot do so.

  5. bud

    I’m enjoying the reconciliation and togetherness that bringing down the flag has engendered in our state, and I intend to bask in it for the foreseeable future.

    You call it “basking” but I see this more like a narcotic high. Everyone, including me, feels good right now for doing something to commemorate the AME 9. But the problem is that once the buzz subsides people will want to move on to something else that makes them feel good but accomplishes nothing concrete. Frankly that’s kind of the purpose of sports. When your team wins it makes you feel good. We all enjoy feeling good, hence the enormous popularity of sports. But to actually accomplish something of substance we need more than a “basking” opportunity. Let’s not kid ourselves into thinking the removal of the flag was anything more than a momentary high.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      Removing the flag from government property where it flew literally in the faces of those who came to the State House is very concrete.

  6. Pat

    My interest was peaked at the mention of Coley Blease. I couldn’t find a reference to “endorsed a guy killing a doctor for giving his daughter a checkup at school”, but he surely hated journalists and thought they all ought to be imprisoned.

  7. Mark Stewart

    Ben Tillman was not a Confederate.

    He deserves no legislative protection; nor does he deserve a pass because the flag came down.

    As you say; his is a special case.

    I think Lucas doesn’t want the fight because repudiating Tillman’s legacy would be to repudiate the state constitution of 1895 – and with it the legislative state itself.

    That is a worthy goal and a worthwhile struggle for the people of South Carolina to obtain. I wouldn’t bet against success on this front, hard won though it may be.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Actually… the Legislative State dates to long, long before the constitution of 1895. It reaches back as far as the Lords Proprietors. The big plantation owners always preferred that the Legislature hold the power. At first, they were keeping power away from a royal governor. Later, they were keeping it from any change that might come from a governor elected by the people.

      If you want to maintain the status quo, legislative-dominated government is the way to go.

  8. Karen Pearson

    I was talking with friends the other night (all of whom rejoiced in the removal of the Confederate flag from the State House Grounds). We agreed that the statue of Tillman should remain, but with an explanatory plaque which reveals what the man did, both for good and ill. He did found Clemson, which might be considered ‘ill’ if you’re a USC fan, and he did found SC State, although for wrong-headed reasons, namely to keep blacks from going to USC. I believe that the more we truly understand where we’ve been as a state, the more we can understand who we are and where we want to go (Seattle? New Zealand?). But now my curiosity is piqued: I think I’ll google both Blease and Tilman.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      Historical types agree with you, Karen. You leave the record, but add current thinking, with the date said thinking was current.

    2. Norm Ivey

      Tillman was an SOB, but his image doesn’t stir the kind of emotions that the battle flag does. His face is A face of hatred and discrimination, but it’s not a SYMBOL of hatred and discrimination.

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