South Carolina’s history includes a revered former governor who hated, prosecuted Blacks.
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Just yards from the place where the controversial Confederate flag waves at South Carolina’s Stat House in Columbia is an 8-foot bronze statute of a once-political giant in the state who was respected and revered by White supremacists.
Benjamin Ryan “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman, the state’s former governor and a founder of Clemson University, was one of the state’s renowned racists.
Tillman, South Carolina governor and U.S. senator in the 1890s and early 1900s, advocated killing Blacks who sought equal rights.
Study your American history and you’ll learn of the state’s long and painful past and the racists who are put on a pedestal – literally. Statues of slave owners dot the state and some even are placed in the U.S. Capitol.
Tillman spoke proudly in 1900 of his efforts to disenfranchise and kill prospective Black voters. “We have done our level best. … We have scratched our heads to find out how we could eliminate the last one of them. We stuffed ballot boxes. We shot them. We are not ashamed of it.”
In a 1909 speech, Tillman said he believed in “terrorizing the Negroes at the first opportunity by letting them provoke trouble and then having the Whites demonstrate their superiority by killing as many of them as was justifiable.”
He added, “That we have good government now is due entirely to the fact that Red Shirt men of 1876 did all and dared all that was necessary to rescue South Carolina from the rule of the alien, the traitor, and the semi-barbarous Negroes.”
He died in 1918; the statue of him at the State House was erected in 1940. A 2008 effort to remove the statue stalled in the state legislature.
Republican state Rep. Greg Delleney said about a resolution that was killed to remove the statue,
“He was a man of his times, honored by the people of his times. I’m not going to go back and rewrite history.”
Rich slave state
The African slave trade had deep roots in South Carolina. It has been estimated that after the Middle Passage, over 40 percent of African slaves reaching the British colonies before the American revolution passed through South Carolina.
Many slaves ended up in the rice fields in South Carolina, a particularly brutal work environment.
South Carolina became rich off the slave trade, and no other colony relied on slaves more. By 1760, Charleston was among the richest towns in America.
Major slave proponent
Emanuel AME Church, where nine parishioners were killed last week, is located on Calhoun Street, named after John C. Calhoun, a major advocate of the Fugitive Slave Act, which required the co-operation of law enforcement officials in free states to return escaped slaves.
Marion Square, half a block from the church, features a statue of Calhoun standing on an 80-foot high pillar. A marker reads “1787-1850: Truth, Justice and the Constitution.”
Calhoun was the seventh vice president of the United States from 1825 to 1832, during the administrations of John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, and then became a powerful U.S. senator from South Carolina. Calhoun himself owned plenty of slaves. He pushed not just for the preservation of slavery but its expansion into new territories to the west.
‘Positive good’ speech
In a Feb. 6, 1837 speech, Calhoun called for the Senate to refuse even to consider petitions calling for abolition. According to Calhoun, such petitions were an act of “aggression,” and if he and his allies were to “concede an inch,” they would have to be “prepared to become slaves.’’ He went beyond those slavery supporters who said it was a necessary evil, to claim it was “a positive good” — not just for slave owners, but for the people they enslaved.
Mamie Garvin Fields, an activist and Charleston native born in 1888, reflects on Calhoun’s racism in her book “Lemon Swamp and Other Places.
She states, “We hated all that Calhoun stood for … Blacks took that statue personally. As you passed by, here was Calhoun looking you in the face and telling you, ‘Nigger, you may not be a slave, but I am back to see you stay in your place.’”
Added Fields, “We used to carry something with us, if we knew we would be passing that way, in order to deface that statue … whites had to come back and put him way up high, so we couldn’t get to him.”
The state later became one of the most notorious areas for Ku Klux Klan activity. Between 1877 and 1950, South Carolina had 164 lynchings in 36 different counties.
Hampton and Thurmond
After the Civil War, South Carolina was one of many states that used the 13th Amendment’s “except for punishment of a crime” clause to perpetuate slavery for decades through a nefarious inmate lease system.
South Carolina’s Wade Hampton and his “red shirts” — forerunner to the Ku Klux Klan — used domestic terrorism to control freed slaves who couldn’t be tossed into prisons. Hampton was a plantation owner and politician who served as a Confederate general during the Civil War (1861-1865).
Strom Thurmond, who served 48 years as a state senator, was a segregationist and believer in White superiority despite having fathered a child with a Black teenage servant. He ran for president in 1948 under the Dixiecrats party, which had split from the Democrats over the threat of federal intervention in state affairs regarding segregation and Jim Crow.
In the 1970s, Thurmond moderated his position on race but still defended his early segregationist campaigns on the basis of states’ rights in the context of Southern society at the time. He never fully renounced his earlier views.
Articles by Jon Schwarz/Huffington Post, Will Moredock/Charleston City Paper and Jonathan Baird/Concord Monitor and Thomas Schaller/Baltimore Sun and Wikipedia were used in this report