Tuesday, July 7, 2015

South Carolina Capitol, Tragedy & the Flag

After Georgia our next capitol tour was in Columbia, South Carolina.  We could not have picked a more historic time to be there with all the events surrounding the the tragic killing of nine people in a church in Charleston, including state Senator Clementa Pickney.  This shooting lead Governor Nikki Haley and many other politicians to call for the removal of the confederate flag from the capitol grounds.  We were not only able to tour the building and see the legislature in action on this issue, we were able to see and comment on the demonstrations related to the removal of the flag.   
Construction of the present capitol began in the 1850's.  In 1865 General Sherman's Union Army came through Columbia and burned much of the city and the old wooden capitol.  At that time only the foundation and stone walls of the new building had been completed and they survived the war.  Other than making it functional, little was done on the building between 1868 and 1885.  The interior was completed by 1895 and the exterior dome, porticos and steps were done by 1907.  The columns on the porticos are cut from a single piece of stone and are believed to be the largest such columns in the U.S.  The capitol is a traditional style with two chambers for the legislature and offices for the governor and other elected officials.  The dome is made of steel and wood that is covered with copper.  There is not a supporting rotunda under the dome like many other capitols. 
As with all capitols, the grounds have several monuments to honor various people in South Carolina history.  This is a statue of Strom Thurmond who was the only person to serve in Congress to be 100 years of age.  When he died he was the longest serving member, but has since been passed by two others for that honor.  Thurmond ran for president as a Dixiecrat in 1948.  That party believed in segregation and used the confederate battle flag as its symbol.  After the Democrats in Congress passed the 1964 civil rights bill, Thurmond left the party and became a Republican.     
The Law Enforcement Monument honors all police and correction officers who died in the line of duty.  I thought the "thin blue line" was the most unique feature of this monument. 
The African American History Monument traces 300 years of Black history in South Carolina.  Relief panels depict scenes from the time of slavery, through the Civil War and the Jim Crow period, to the civil rights movement and ends with the accomplishments of modern African Americans in many different endeavours. The model of the slave ship is a very powerful reminder of the terrible treatment of the slaves on the Middle Passage from Africa. 
The confederate Monument was erected in 1879 as a "proud remembrance of the men who died during the Civil War."  The confederate battle flag was placed there 15 years ago as a compromise to remove it from the capitol dome where it had been placed in 1965 to show resistance to the civil rights legislation that became the law of the land.  
The main lobby of the capitol.  The lobby has paintings, plaques and statues of historic importance.  It was packed with people because of the flag removal issue. 
Many of the paintings in the capitol show battles of the Revolutionary War.  There were more battles in South Carolina during that war than any other state.  The Patriots' victory at the battle of Cowpens in 1781 is considered the turning point of the war in the South and was an important step toward victory at Yorktown.  
Statue of John C. Calhoun who was a U. S. vice president under two presidents, secretary of state and war, and a member of the U. S. house and senate.  He was also an intense defender of slavery and set in motion policies that lead to secession 11 years after his death.    
A plaque with the articles of secession that was followed by the bombardment of Fort Sumter and started the Civil War.
The only Civil War painting we found was of confederate soldier Richard Kirkland who risked his life during the Battle of Fredericksburg to take water to wounded Union soldiers. 
The House of Representatives has 124 members.  The representatives were standing and applauding the passage of a resolution to begin talks about removing the confederate battle flag from the capitol grounds in response to the Charleston shootings.  The tally board shows the overwhelming support for the resolution. It was wonderful to be there on such a historic day.
Representatives from the Charleston area who spoke about there friend who had served with them, Clementa Pinckney.  There were many emotional and moving tributes. 
The South Carolina Senate has 46 members.  You can see the black draped desk of Senator Pinckney.  There were also many words of praise for their fallen colleague and a voice vote to begin talks about removing the flag.  While we missed his speech, the son of Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond joined the call to take it down. 
Around the monument there were many demonstrators calling for the flag to be removed and a few with signs saying it should stay.  While there is a great divide on this issue, there were many more people there who said the flag should come down.
The main lobby was packed with local and national media interviewing the senators and representatives after the votes had been taken.
Outside the media was interviewing cranky old white guys to get their opinion.  This guy obviously was all about keeping the flag where it is.......
......and this guy had a different opinion.  Yes, I was interviewed and shown on local TV a couple times.  They even spelled my name correctly.  While I think there is a place for the flag in museums and in teaching the history of the Civil War, the time where it is displayed on the grounds of a government building that represents ALL people has passed.  That said, if someone wants to fly it on their property or wear it that should allowed.  Years ago I had a friend, Herman, who had a plate on the front of his car with a little Johnny Reb, the stars and bars and the saying "Hell no I won't forget".  I had no problem with that, of course, Herman was Black.

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