The mayor of North Augusta wants his town to add context to a 102-year-old monument which recognizes a white supremacist killed in 19th-century race riots.
Mayor Bob Pettit said he wants to recognize the seven black militia members who were killed by a white mob in the same 1876 riot now known as the “Hamburg Massacre.” Pettit proposed the idea during a city council meeting earlier this month on what to do about the controversial monument in Calhoun Park.
“The message is something that I’m not comfortable with and I think a number of others aren’t comfortable with,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “Let’s do something to make it an educational experience: leave the marker where it is, but do put it in the context of history.”
The 1876 “Hamburg Massacre” occurred when a white mob led by the “Red Shirts” paramilitary group attacked a black National Guard unit who refused to disarm. Seven black militiamen were killed — most after they were taken prisoner — while one white rioter McKie Meriwether also died. The monument erected 40 years later honors Meriwether.
Meriwether’s monument makes no effort to hide the racial nature of the violence, stating that “he exemplified the highest ideal of Anglo-Saxon civilization,” and that, “By his death, he assured to the children of beloved land the supremacy of that ideal.”
Only a few North Augusta residents were even aware of the monument’s meaning until freelance journalist Kenton Makin called for the monument’s removal during a September 2017 council meeting. “At the very least, as a governing body, I am calling on you all to make a formal denouncement of the monument, what it stands for and what it reads,” he said, according to an Augusta Chronicle article at the time. “At this very crucial time, a failure to take down the monument, or at the very least, formally denounce this monument, represents an acceptance of the hateful commentary present on the obelisk.”
The town conducted a study to learn more about the monument’s history and climate in which it was erected. That report was released this month.
A 2000 state law does not allow towns to alter or remove war or civil rights monuments without legislative approval. But it’s not clear if this particular obelisk falls under that category. The monument does not honor any war or military figures and is not tied to the civil rights movement.
But Pettit said, instead of going through a legal fight to remove the monument, he wants to give the full history and context. “I don’t think it makes sense to take it down because of the opportunity to elaborate on that time and what caused it,” he said.
The town council has not scheduled debate on specific proposals or designs. Pettit anticipated discussion could begin in January, although he emphasized that is not set at this point.