Monuments and statues reflect our nation’s history – the good, the bad and the ugly. We have long cautioned against the type of chaos and destruction that is presently surrounding monuments from one side of the nation to the other.
The random destruction and vandalism aimed at statues and memorials must stop. It is up to government and law enforcement to see that history is preserved and those illegally damaging monuments be prosecuted.
It is clear that the target of protesters – when they destroy they are rioters – is no longer just monuments related to the Confederacy. In a destructive wave, statues dating from Christopher Columbus through World War II are being destroyed or damaged. It is as if there is an unstated determination to rewrite history.
Where it all ends remains to be seen. Do we tear down monuments in the nation’s capital to Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln? Do we change the name of buildings and roads dedicated to people from the past when the societal standards of today were not present? Taking such an approach is dangerous and wrong, and may make us no better than the Taliban destroying Buddhist statues or ISIS devastating ancient sites.
Just as there is a process for erecting monuments and statues, there is also one that can lead to bringing them down. In South Carolina at present, there is dispute between state and local governments over which has authority over monuments. The state sees the 2000 Heritage Act as giving it say over memorials. Local governments believe they can and should decide on monuments within their jurisdictions.
Orangeburg, like many locales in the South, has memorials to the Confederacy. The debate long has raged here and elsewhere as to a balance between preserving these monuments as history and heritage and taking them down as offensive symbols of secession and slavery. Disagreement will remain, but a path forward must be found.
Orangeburg City Council is poised this week to consider and likely approve a resolution that calls on the state to cede authority over monuments to local government, a move that Mayor Michael Butler said is aimed at removing the 33-foot Confederate statue from downtown. Erected in 1893, the statue memorializes the Confederate dead of the Orangeburg District.
The mayor said it and any monument to a person or people who owned slaves should be removed. There has been no word as yet on whether the monument would be destroyed in the process.
Butler’s view on the monument is shared by many others in a majority-African American community, but the mayor and city leaders surely are aware that removal of the statue will be controversial and divisive.
To their credit, the city leaders are going about the process in the right way. There first would have to be clearing the hurdle of state law protecting monuments – either in court or through legislative action. Then council would owe the people of Orangeburg an opportunity to be heard on the matter via public hearing followed by a council vote on a course of action.
Until then, as Mayor Butler said, the monument on Memorial Plaza should not be vandalized. The legal process will work in Orangeburg, which must not let itself become the scene of destruction such as being seen elsewhere.
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