By Barney Blakeney
Charleston City Council June 23 approved the removal and relocation of the monument to staunch slavery advocate John C. Calhoun. The 115-foot statue has overlooked the street named in Calhoun’s honor from its place at Marion Square since 1896. The statue’s removal comes amidst a national wave of challenges to Confederate and pro-slavery history and artifacts. Its removal began June 23.
John Caldwell Calhoun served as the seventh vice president of the United States from 1825 to 1832. Calhoun, born in Abbeville, led the pro-slavery faction in the Senate. Calhoun’s father, Patrick Calhoun, helped shape his views. He was a staunch supporter of slavery who believed that social standing also depended on the ownership of a substantial number of slaves. Calhoun was firmly convinced that slavery was the key to the success of the American dream.
The issue of removing Calhoun’s statue has been a point of contention for some time in the Charleston community. Last week, Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg announced officials had arrived at a resolution. Council said eventually the statue will be placed at an appropriate yet to be determined site where it will be protected and preserved. The vote was unanimous.
Charleston NAACP President Dorothy Scott said the issue of the statue is bigger than Charleston. It’s a small piece to the bigger picture of a movement, she said. Its removal could impact future decisions about education, housing and other aspects of daily life for Blacks. It’s a moment in time we’ll never see again, she said.
In a prepared statement Councilman Jason Sakran said, “This is a highly important issue for all of us. At last week’s press conference I was clear about my position on this issue. As I said last week, at this time, relocating the John C Calhoun statue from Marion Square to another location is the appropriate thing to do for our entire community. The values represented by this statue 150 years ago are not the values of Charleston in 2020.
“Removing his statue is an opportunity for us as a city to talk about that history in the proper context. At the end of the day, if a large portion of our community feels uncomfortable with the statue, we should acknowledge it and act on it. When we debate about the merits of an inanimate object like a monument versus the feelings and claims of our fellow citizens — it seems like some are confused about what matters most.
“I plan to begin the difficult, more complex work of improving racial equality and relations here in Charleston. The monument relocation is a historical moment for many in our community, but the more important work for me is the work we will soon begin around housing, criminal justice reform, education, health and economic opportunity as part of the Special Commission on Equity, Inclusion and Racial Conciliation I am co-chairing with Councilman Dudley Gregorie.”