Two South Carolina senators are proposing a new Statehouse monument to honor a former slave who used a Confederate ship to sneak his family to freedom, before later winning election to Congress after the war.
State Sen. Greg Gregory, R-Lancaster, who is white, joined with black State Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland to propose the new statue honoring Robert Smalls. Wednesday’s planned announcement comes amid controversy over existing Confederate and white supremacist monuments on the Statehouse grounds.
“At this time in history our communities, state and country need greater unity and less dissention,” Gregory said in a joint statement. “Removal of Historical monuments in SC will create less of the former and more of the latter.
Jackson seconded. “While I think the State House grounds is a place where historical monuments should be displayed, however I think it should be a place that represents all of South Carolinas history. By erecting a monument to honor Robert Smalls, who was a heroic and dynamic South Carolinian, is a great step in that direction.”
Smalls was a slave who worked as a Confederate steamship pilot in Charleston harbor during the Civil War. He used his position to gain the trust of the ship’s captain before famously sneaking his family aboard his vessel CSS Planter one night in 1862 to escape with its slave crew. He captained the vessel past several forts before reaching a Union blockade and freedom. He then served in the Union Navy for the next three years. After the war, he became active in politics, eventually winning election as a Republican congressman for the Beaufort region. He served for nine years before white supremacist politicians gradually regained control of state government at the end of Reconstruction and forced him out of politics.
South Carolina state law requires a two-thirds vote in the state legislature to remove or alter any historical monument, including the Statehouse grounds. However, creating a new monument would only require a simple majority. Gregory and Jackson have not said if they want the statue to be built with public or privately-raised money.