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EDITORIAL: Erasing history is a mistake
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EDITORIAL: Erasing history is a mistake

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The rush to remove monuments and statues around the country has become a misguided effort to remove the nation’s history. What long has been a focus on memorials to the Civil War Confederacy has become much more.

When statues to abolitionists and figures such as Union Gen. and former President Ulysses S. Grant are singled out, it is clear the Confederacy alone is no longer the target. Either those ready to remove monuments do not know history or they are simply determined to judge every figure by some undefined standard of the 21st century.

The disturbing push to remove, destroy, rename and otherwise do away with elements of U.S. history has lawmakers looking for ways to safeguard monuments including such icons as Mount Rushmore. It appears such legislation will be needed.

In South Carolina, the General Assembly in 2000 passed the Heritage Act in conjunction with removal of the Confederate flag from the Statehouse dome. The legislation was aimed at protecting war memorials. The act put into law the requirement for a two-thirds vote of the legislature to remove or alter monuments.

While the underlying purpose was to prevent wholesale removal of Confederate monuments, there since 2000 has been controversy surrounding other memorials from different wars. Local governments contend they, not the General Assembly, should have control over monuments in their jurisdictions.

That is the position of Orangeburg City Council, which via resolution has called for action by the General Assembly to alter the Heritage Act to allow it to remove the Confederate memorial statue from downtown. Local lawmakers have indicated they would support changes.

But in the current environment, it may be difficult to get a majority of state legislators in both houses to agree, and total abandonment of the Heritage Act is unlikely.

More likely is a court challenge to the law, which Attorney General Alan Wilson has stated via general opinion is constitutional. At the same time, Wilson said the law’s requirement for a two-thirds vote likely would be found unconstitutional. A simple majority vote in both houses would be required to remove or change a monument.

His opinion clearly sides with the state having authority over monuments.

“Only an act by the South Carolina General Assembly can remove a monument. This is a position we are prepared to support in court," Wilson said in a video statement released with the opinion.

As to Charleston’s removal of a statue of slavery advocate and former U.S. Vice President John C. Calhoun, Wilson said he would not challenge the action. The city argued the statue didn’t fall under the Heritage Act because it was a privately owned statue on public land. Wilson agreed, adding Calhoun's statue wasn't a war memorial or an honor for a Native American or African American, which are all mentioned specifically in the act.

Orangeburg Mayor Michael Butler has said he believes any statue or memorial to a person who owned slaves should be removed.

As much as his opinion is shared by many as a concern larger than any worry about preserving history, there are legitimate historical concerns to be addressed. Consider these quotes from a recent opinion piece by Orangeburg’s William Green. They are worthy of contemplation as local leaders seek to make changes:

“When you erase your history, you have nothing to look back to and nothing to look forward to your future. You have to know where you have been to know where you are going.

“For the city to take charge into demolishing a (building) with this historical value is unjust to the citizens of Orangeburg.

“This is one more plague to erase the history of a people.

“I never thought I would see the city turn its back on the citizens of Orangeburg — past and present. We need (The State Theater) as standing proof of what happened to a race of people in Orangeburg, South Carolina.”

Green’s quotes referenced the building that once housed The State Theater on Railroad Corner, an African American landmark. Now substitute “monuments” for his reference. Are they worthy of the same contemplation?

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