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City Vows To Protect Vesey Monument After Suspected Vandalism
5/10/2017 4:12:07 PM

Denmark Vesey monument

Image showing suspected vandalism of Vesey monument (Photo: Brenda J. Peart)
By Barney Blakeney

Some expected it to happen. Others say there’s no indisputable evidence the monument to Charleston slave insurrectionist Denmark Vesey has been vandalized. Members of the committee that drove the 20-year effort to erect the monument to one of the historic city’s most controversial figures however are convinced vandalism did occur.

In 1822 Vesey was alleged to be the ringleader of a planned slave revolt. Vesey and his followers were said to be planning to kill slaveholders in Charleston, liberate the slaves, and sail to the black republic of Haiti for refuge. By some accounts, it would have involved thousands of slaves in the city and others on plantations miles away. But the conspiracy was revealed and city officials had a militia arrest the plot's leaders and many suspected followers in June before the rising could begin. Not one white person was killed or injured.

Vesey and five slaves were among the first group of men judged guilty by the secret proceedings of a city-appointed court and condemned to death; they were executed by hanging on July 2, 1822. In later proceedings, some 30 additional followers were executed. His son was also judged guilty of conspiracy and was deported from the United States, along with many others.

The effort to erect the monument to Vesey began in 1996 and culminated 18 years later amid controversy that continues to fuel racial tensions in the city. The committee was denied permission to erect the monument at Marion Square in the heart of the city adjacent to where the arsenal to protect white citizens against further slave uprisings was established. That arsenal ultimately evolved into The Citadel, South Carolina’s military college. Ironically the monument now stands in the municipal park adjacent to The Citadel’s current location.

Committee Chair Henry Darby sent out an alert May 7 after receiving information the monument had been damaged. “I got a call tonight around 10:00 stating there was damage to the Denmark Vesey Monument. I went to check it; and come to find out, it is true,” he relayed. The next day Darby met Charleston police at the monument in Hampton Park where they viewed the monument.

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg earlier viewed the monument. The city issued this statement, “In response to concerns about possible vandalism of the statue of Denmark Vesey in Hampton Park, City of Charleston police and parks department officials conducted a thorough inspection of the statue and surrounding area earlier today. They noted two areas of concern. First, the original caulking at the base of the statue's platform has deteriorated, which is typically the result of changing weather conditions over time. Second, there is a very small chip on the left front corner of the platform itself, which had not been noted previously by city officials.

“The Parks Department will begin caulking repairs tomorrow, and is currently evaluating options to repair the chip. This statue of Denmark Vesey is a critical symbol of our citizens' continuing commitment to racial reconciliation, and city officials will be keeping a close eye on it to ensure that it is protected from further damage or deterioration."

The monument’s creator, Sculptor Ed Dwight, after reviewing pictures of the damage sent this message to committee members, “I'd like to go on record with my limited view, of what could have happened here. There is a steel framework inside the pedestal, where the granite panels are attached with a strong epoxy. The panels are then caulked to fill in the seams. Weathering over time will indeed shrink & expand the caulking, loosening it a bit. The worst that can happen to this caulking is a mild separation from the seam. This is a deep separation, not caused by any "loose caulking.

“The sculpture is bolted to the top granite plate as well as the inside steel structure, which is in turn epoxied together. This alone would make the statue, the top plate & inner steel structure act as a unit. So, if the statue was pulled by a large force, it would break away the caulking just as shown on the pictures. The question is - Is the entire top of the granite top tilted away from the opening?

“The photos show a large gap between the top granite plate & the vertical panels. There is no way for the top granite plate to separate from the vertical panel without a significant force applied to the sculpture, itself. In other words, in my opinion a rope or some strong strapping was attached to the sculpture in an attempt to pull the sculpture down. It could have been attached to the back of a car or truck. What is shown in the pictures is not normal wear or defect of the granite vendor. A large force was applied to the statue.”

Committee member Dr. Bernard Powers said given that other local historical markers dedicated to Blacks have been vandalized and given the tenor of current racial tones, it’s not inconceivable the monument was vandalized. A group of individuals could have attempted to pull the monument down before realizing the amount of force it would take, he speculated. Charleston police officials said every effort will be taken to insure the monument is not further damaged.

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