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Hunley Monument Vs. African American Monument - Choose
6/4/2014 2:58:04 PM

By Barney Blakeney

I’m not one for monuments and such - at least not as a way to honor people - for most of the people who have had the greatest influence on our history and consciousness there are no physical monuments. The monuments of their greatness have stood the test of time in other ways. So the other day when I got the phone call from a North Charleston resident ticked off about the city’s commitment to build a museum to house the H.L. Hunley submarine, I listened half-heartedly. I’ve been out of pocket in recent weeks - pulled one way then another - and all the while trying to keep from being pulled apart. But that’s the hand I was dealt. To whom much is given, much is required. When you’ve got stuff going on in your own life, its hard to listen to someone else’s concerns.

So at first I didn’t understand what the brother was talking about. I hadn’t read a newspaper in days. He was ticked that the city had entered a new agreement to facilitate the development of a Hunley museum. North Charleston’s already pledged $13 million to help fund the proposed Hunley museum and kicks in $50,000 annually towards its preservation. Ever since they found that thing at the bottom of the Charleston harbor, there’s been a lot of hoopla to make it a centerpiece of the city’s history. A replica of the Civil War’s experiment sits in front of the Charleston Museum. It’s a monument I don’t relish. If those folks had been successful, today I’d be even more a slave.

The brother was asking why North Charleston officials entered an agreement to create an agency that can build the Hunley museum. Well, he wasn’t asking why. We all know why. North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey has bent over backwards to accommodate the Hunley project. The brother was asking why local Black elected officials are so mum on the subject.

The Hunley has cost taxpayers a lot of money so far. The state’s legislature has kicked in a good portion of it. So has the City of North Charleston where more than half the residents are Black folks - Black folks who also would be even more enslaved had the Hunley’s mission been successful. The Hunley project has been an undenied pet project of former Charleston Senator/S.C. Lt. Governor and now College of Charleston President Glenn McConnell’s. The brother said he thinks McConnell is influencing this latest push for the Hunley project. He believes Glenn has lost very little influence since leaving the legislature. I think most folks agree.

As I said earlier, I really wasn’t tuned in to what the guy was talking about. But then he noted North Charleston pledged $13 million toward a permanent home for the Hunley and contributes $50,000 annually to its temporary housing. That got my attention.
You see, I’ve been watching what’s going on with the proposed African American Museum in Charleston and it’s been tough going trying to get funding for the $60 million project. The Hunley project is expected to cost $40 million, but who’s counting?

Now, this guy’s ranting started to make sense. The Hunley project is getting all the support it needs - chairs are being rearranged to insure the technical infrastructure is in place to make it happen and the folks involved seem assured the money also will be in place. But when it comes to the African American museum there are no such guarantees.

I called a Charleston City councilman and he seemed confident the African American museum also will be built. Both projects have been on the table more than a decade. I ain’t down with the ‘you give me this, I give you that’ method of acknowledging history - former state senator Robert Ford and Glenn McConnell gave us a good example of that with the Martin L. King Jr./Robert E. Lee birthday state holiday trade-off. I don’t think any real progress was made in terms of different folks understanding or accepting their respective historic perspectives.

What I find most disturbing about these latest shenanigans is something I think we all realize - our community is no further ahead in making progress as it relates to our mutual racially infused history because we’re so racially polarized. Until we treat all the parts of our collective history as equally important, we can’t move forward into a mutually beneficial future.

It doesn’t help that the people we elect to leads us into a brighter day get so caught up in their own preferences. Like I said, monuments aren’t my thing, but if we must have them, let’s create them in ways that tell future generations how hard we worked to overcome what they represent.

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