Crews in Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday morning began taking down a statue of former US Vice President John C. Calhoun, who was a major advocate of slavery before the Civil War. The Charleston City Council voted 13-0 to take it down. (June 24)
A statue of John C. Calhoun, a staunch defender of slavery and former U.S. vice president, was coming down Wednesday in Charleston, South Carolina, the latest memorial of a historical figure with a known racist past to be removed.
Charleston’s city council voted unanimously late Tuesday to remove the statue of Calhoun from a downtown square, and crews were still working Wednesday to lift the massive statue from its pedestal. Hundreds gathered to see the memorial come down as straps were wrapped around the more than 100-foot statue of the politician from the Palmetto State.
The Post and Courier in Charleston reported that crews were struggling to bring the monument down by into Wednesday afternoon as a lift failed and another crane was being brought in to help.
Calhoun’s statue is the latest in a string of monuments that have been torn down or are slated for removal in the wake of protests around the country demanding racial justice. Many of the statues targeted have been of Confederate leaders or other historical figures known for espousing racist views or defending slavery.
The protests were sparked after the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes in late May. The deaths of Rayshard Brooks, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and many other Black Americans killed at the hands of police or former officers have also led to demonstrations and calls for reforms to police departments around the United States.
Calhoun, a former vice president, advocated strongly to protect the institution of slavery and called slavery a “positive good.” Calhoun also argued that enslaved people in the South were better off than free Black people in the North, and he helped push ideologies that led the South to secede, though he died in 1850, more than a decade before the start of the Civil War.
The monument has towered over Charleston – home to the port through which 40% of enslaved Africans brought to North America first traveled – since 1898.
The statue was located in Marion Square, which sits along Calhoun Street and is named after Francis Marion. According to Smithsonian Magazine, Marion was a American Revolutionary War hero who also owned slaves and fought against Cherokee Native Americans.
Mayor John Tecklenburg, who called for the Calhoun statue’s removal, said that “we are setting a new chapter, a more equitable chapter, in our city’s history.”
South Carolina’s Heritage Act protects historical monuments and the names of buildings, but the mayor said the monument is not on public property, nor does it commemorate one of the historical events listed in the act. According to the National Park Service, the city technically leases the land, which “is to be kept open forever as a parade ground for the Sumter Guards and the Washington Light Infantry.”
City officials said the statue will be placed permanently at “an appropriate site where it will be protected and preserved.”
Contributing: The Associated Press
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