South Carolina’s only Democrat in Congress — and the highest-ranking African-American in the party caucus — says he does not support efforts to remove Confederate-related monuments from government properties.
Congressman Jim Clyburn’s comments to Greenwood affiliate WCRS came as debate continues to flare around the country on the future of Confederate or Segregation-related monuments after the Emanuel AME Church shooting in Charleston.
Last week, the University of Texas student government voted to remove an on-campus statue of the Confederacy’s first president Jefferson Davis and place it in a history museum. The city council in Birmingham, Alabama is also looking into relocating a Confederate soldiers’ monument from a town park, while New Orleans is considering the removal of three Confederate statues (and one related to Reconstruction) from town squares.
But Clyburn, who was a history teacher before becoming involved in politics, said he will not join the effort. “This is what our history is, was, will always be. You can’t change it. What we can do is learn from it,” he told WCRS host Anne Eller last week, before referring to George Santayana’s famous quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
“There are a lot of things in our history, hopefully we will never repeat. But you don’t know not to repeat it unless you learn what it is, honor what it is, and work to overcome whatever that might be,” he said.
Clip: Clyburn tells WCRS’ Anne Eller he does not support ‘trying to change history’ (2:27)
But South Carolina’s longest-serving congressman did support removing the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds earlier this summer, saying he does not support giving “sovereignty to these kinds of emblems.” He also supports removing the Confederate naval jack from The Citadel’s campus chapel for that reason.
It remains to be seen if the presence of segregation-related monuments on the Statehouse will be an issue in South Carolina this upcoming year. State law prevents any war monuments from being altered without the support of a supermajority of legislators. Another potential target could be the statue of former Gov. Benjamin Tillman, a proud white supremacist who helped eliminate voting rights for most African-American men in the state and who historians say may have been involved in a lynching when he was younger.
House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Hartsville, has repeatedly insisted lawmakers will not debate those monuments next year. But, if the legislature did take them up, Clyburn said he will not be involved. “I have never been, nor will I every be… for trying to change history. Statues on the Statehouse grounds depict historical events and historical people. I don’t have a problem with that.
The town of Greenwood is involved in its own lawsuit with the state of South Carolina over the Heritage Preservation Act, which makes it a crime to alter a war monument without state permission. The local American Legion post had been seeking to replace plaques on the war memorial it owns well before the Charleston church shooting. Currently the names of the deceased are separated by race on the monument, but the veterans say they want a single non-segregated roster. Others in the community are against the idea, including prominent State Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, saying the segregated names should be kept as a reminder of the “Jim Crow” era to modern residents.
The Greenwood Post 20 is suing the state, arguing the law violates the group’s freedom of speech.
Anne Eller of Greenwood affiliate WCRS contributed to this report