Winthrop University officials say a portrait of controversial former South Carolina governor Benjamin “Pitchfork” Tillman was vandalized Thursday morning
The school’s president Dan Mahony wrote in an email that someone had written “violent racist” in red paint across the portrait. “Ben Tillman was inarguably a racist, however, that fact does not justify vandalism,” Mahony wrote. “Campus police are conducting an investigation of the incident and anyone found responsible will be held accountable.”
Tillman was perhaps the most divisive figure to ever govern South Carolina, leading the state from 1890-1894 and serving as U.S. senator after that until his death in 1918. The Democrat pushed for segregationist principles and helped eliminate the last vestiges of voting rights most African-American men obtained after the Civil War. However, he was also a key figure in the founding of Clemson University and establishing Winthrop’s present-day campus. The vandalized portrait hung in the school’s Tillman Hall.
Tillman’s statue at the Statehouse also had red paint thrown at it earlier this week.
A Winthrop University Police report stated that a staffer with the school’s foundation had called officers after she spotted a “thin, White Male wearing a green ball cap” who she saw writing on the portrait. She told the officer she had noticed the man on her way to the restroom. She said the man then turned around and looked at her before running out of the building. Police did not find the suspect. There are no security cameras at Tillman Hall.
The school estimates the vandalism caused about $3,000 in damage to the portrait.
Meanwhile, the Rock Hill Herald reports the incident happened just hours after someone apparently broke a first-floor window at the building during an overnight break-in. Nothing was reported missing and the two acts do not appear related, a school spokesman told the newspaper.