By Robert Kittle
South Carolina lawmakers agreed this year to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds. Now, they’ll be asked to allow cities, counties, and colleges to change monuments, street names, or building names without having to get two-thirds approval from state lawmakers.
Lawmakers passed the Heritage Act in 2000 as part of a compromise to move the Confederate flag off the Statehouse dome and put it at the Confederate Soldier Monument in front of the Statehouse instead. The Heritage Act prohibits changing any monument, street name, building or school name, without a two-thirds vote from both the state House and Senate.
Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Columbia, helped craft that compromise and the Heritage Act. But now that the Confederate flag is off the Statehouse grounds, he says it’s time to let local governments or college boards to decide what’s best for them.
“The problem with the current Heritage Act is that if a county such as Greenwood, a city such as Greenwood, want to change the name on a monument they would have to come to state government, General Assembly, to get two-thirds approval. That makes no sense. If The Citadel says, ‘We want to take a flag down from an auditorium, place it somewhere else,’ they would have to come get two-thirds approval,” he says.
Those examples have happened. In Greenwood, the American Legion wants to change a soldiers’ monument. The current monument has the names segregated by race, but the group can’t change the monument without legislative approval.
Protesters in Clemson have called for Tillman Hall to be renamed, because former SC Gov. Ben Tillman was a white supremacist who advocated lynching. And The Citadel has been unable to move a Confederate flag on campus because of the Heritage Act.
But Sen. John Courson, R-Columbia, who also helped write the Heritage Act, says, “We have a rich history, and we need to preserve that history, and I think changing street names or monuments or moving monuments, it sort of sanitizes history, and I would be opposed to it.”
He says all a group has to do now to make a change is ask state lawmakers. But a two-thirds vote is hard to get in both bodies. Still, Sen. Courson says, “Once you open this, it’s a slippery slope and I think the state has a responsibility to preserve our historical monuments and street names and school names.”
Sen. Jackson says, “I would say to my colleagues who think it’s a slippery slope, what if the federal government did that to us? What if the federal government said to the state of South Carolina, ‘You can’t change the name of your streets. You can’t change the names that are on your buildings. You can’t do anything unless you get federal approval’? I remind my colleagues, we fought a war over that, and it began in Charleston with people saying, ‘It takes away our autonomy.'”