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Charleston votes to remove statue of lawyer from slavery


CHARLESTON, SC (AP) – Officials in the historic city of Charleston, South Carolina voted unanimously Tuesday to remove a statue of former vice president and defender of slavery John C. Calhoun d ‘a downtown square, the latest in a wave of actions stemming from protests against racism and police brutality against African Americans.

Council members approved Measure 13-0 at a late meeting. The resolution authorizes the removal of the statue of the former vice-president and senator from South Carolina from the top of a 100-foot (30-meter) monument in downtown Marion Square.

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City officials ultimately said the Calhoun statue would be permanently placed in “an appropriate site where it will be protected and preserved.”

Just before midnight Tuesday, the Charleston Police Department tweeted that “Calhoun Street between Meeting Street and King Street is closed for the removal of the statue of John C. Calhoun”, adding that the street will be closed for several hours.

Shortly before 1 a.m. Wednesday, workers using massive cranes began to shoot down the statue at his 100-foot (30-meter) monument in downtown Marion Square. A few hundred people gathered on the scene, most of them in favor of the removal.

The vote comes a week after mayor John Tecklenburg announced that he would send the resolution to city council. He also took part in the vote.

“I believe we are opening a new chapter, a fairer chapter, in the history of our city,” said Tecklenburg, just before the vote. “We are taking the right step. It’s just the right thing for us to do. “

Council members heard from dozens of residents for and against the removal of the statue. Councilor Karl L. Brady Jr. said he knew his support could cost him votes, but that he was voting his conscience with a gesture, he said, shows that in Charleston, ” we place white supremacy and white supremacist thought where it belongs – on the ashes of history. “

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The move comes days after the fifth anniversary of the massacre of nine black parishioners in a racist attack in a church in downtown Charleston. It also happens as cities in the United States debate the removal of monuments to Confederate leaders and others after the death in custody of a black man, George Floyd, in Minnesota.

The ultimate resting place for the statue has yet to be determined, a decision that will be left to a special panel. The mayor has planned to go to a local museum or educational institution.

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When Tecklenburg announced plans to remove the statue last Wednesday, dozens of protesters tied their arms around the monument, crying, “Take it apart!” A video posted on Twitter also showed panels and spray paints on the monument. Police said they made several arrests for vandalism and eventually closed the area overnight.

In the heart of downtown Charleston, Calhoun overlooks a sprawling square frequented by locals and tourists alike, which is a frequent location for festivals and major public events. Several organizers have recently stated that they will no longer use the space while the statue remains.

About 40% of enslaved Africans brought to North America passed through the port city of Charleston, which officially apologized in 2018 for its role in the slave trade. In its resolution, the city affirms that the statue, in place since 1898, “is seen by many people as something other than a memorial to the achievements of a native of South Carolina, but rather a symbol glorifying slavery and , as such, a painful reminder of the history of slavery in Charleston. “

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Calhoun’s support for slavery has never wavered. He said in several speeches to the United States Senate in the 1830s that slaves in the South were better off than the free Blacks in the North while calling slavery “a positive thing”.

Tecklenburg said the kidnapping is not covered by South Carolina’s heritage law, which protects historic monuments and building names because the monument is not on public property or in commemoration of ‘one of the historic events listed in the law. According to the National Parks Service, the city technically rents the land where the monument is located, which “must remain open forever as a parade ground for the Sumter Guards and the Washington Light Infantry”.

So far, Tecklenburg’s interpretation has not been challenged legally. A two-thirds vote in the state’s general assembly is needed to make changes under the heritage law, a difficult task in a state where conservatives dominate the House and the Senate, last used to remove the Confederate flag from Statehouse grounds in 2015.

At a press conference at the Statehouse on Tuesday, Governor Henry McMaster described the Heritage Act as “good state law” and “a deliberate process that is not influenced by passion and time.” Asked about Tecklenburg’s claim that the law does not apply in this case, McMaster – a former prosecutor – called it “a legal matter,” adding: “It depends on how you read the Heritage Act. , and there are people who read it. in different ways. “

Several black lawmakers urge local governments and colleges to act on their own and challenge the monument protection law, as it provides no sanctions and has not been the subject of a court challenge, and several are considering doing it.

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Source: AP News

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