We, the Charleston Democratic Socialists of America, and organizers of the demonstration against white supremacy in Marion Square on August 16, 2017, do not support Mayor Tecklenburg’s plans to leave local Confederate monuments standing while the city finds ways to “tell the whole story” through new plaques and language.
Can Charleston sufficiently contextualize these public objects intended not to preserve history, but to manipulate it? Is it possible that monuments and memorials are capable of being refitted to speak victory against the very ideas they were designed to uphold? We say no.
The role these statues play in communities is clear—they are symbols of white supremacist terror and racial oppression that maintain the “lost cause” mythology surrounding a war that was fought to protect the institution of slavery. Most of these monuments were erected between 1890 and 1950, the decades corresponding to the rise of “separate, but equal,” Jim Crow legislation that tyrannized black communities all over the South. Take, for example, the statue of South Carolina politician John C. Calhoun in Marion Square (originally raised in 1887) for proof. Calhoun, an early supporter of secession, died in 1850, but his speeches and political philosophies supplied the basis for the systems of violent, institutionalized racism that plague our country to this day. Why do we honor a man who told the Senate in 1837 that slavery is a “positive good” because black people are “low, degraded, and savage?” How will a plaque located below the looming memorial of a staunch white supremacist improve the lived experience of people of color who must daily engage with these symbols? We say it won’t.
The Post and Courier has reported that reactions to the mayor’s proposal have been “positive.” Such reviews simple don’t tell the entire story. Rather they have been petitioned by convenient supporters like Calhoun’s actual descendants, members of Confederate veteran memorial organizations, and the South Carolina Secessionist Party—the group responsible for recent public actions that champion the Confederate flag and all of its racist affinities. We want nothing to do with this narrative. Furthermore, we want nothing to do with perpetuations of the Charleston strong message that came about in the wake of the Emanuel A.M.E. massacre. These false notions of unity make it nearly impossible to participate in real community dialogue about systemic racism and all of its manifestations (disparities in housing, education, employment) in the Charleston community.
Before, during, and after our demonstration, we experienced firsthand hostility, aggression, and intimidation tactics embraced by militias, white nationalists and others who rally around the preservation of these monuments. Even though we made our intentions of hosting a peaceful assembly calling for the immediate, legal removal of these monuments clear, we still received threats, many portending violence if our actions continue. The accusation waged at us suggesting we want to erase history is false. How will removing monuments that never accurately depicted our history achieve this?
We, the Charleston Democratic Socialists of America, call on the people of Charleston to speak their dissent against Mayor Tecklenburg and company’s attempts to compromise with racist, white supremacists.
Friends, fight with us to remove the Calhoun monument, all 112 Confederate monuments and memorials to racists in South Carolina’s public spaces. Fight with us to end white supremacy. Fight with us to end these economic systems of exploitation and exclusion that impoverish all.