I never thought in 2021 I would write about a vote regarding statues in the U.S. Capitol, but here we are.
Last month, in overwhelming bipartisan fashion, the House of Representatives voted to relocate 14 statues throughout the U.S. Capitol.
Lost in the discussion was the main purpose of the legislation, which was to remove former Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney’s bust from the Capitol.
It was Taney who authored the Dred Scott decision. You know, the one saying Blacks couldn’t be citizens of the United States.
No, this vote does not tear down any statues, but it does move a few of them around.
This vote also doesn’t change the current process where the state of South Carolina still gets to decide which statue to send to the Capitol.
But I can tell you, we didn’t send our best.
So, let’s talk about history.
Our nation’s history cannot be undone. And we should not try to rewrite it either. It was Winston Churchill who famously once said, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
There should be a middleground where we study, we remember, and we learn.
When South Carolina sent two statues to the Capitol, it was during an era of significant violence and oppression toward African Americans; the era of Jim Crow.
South Carolina’s two statues represent men who promoted slavery and who promoted violence against Blacks in South Carolina because to them, slavery was inherently good.
John C. Calhoun and Wade Hampton both believed the Constitution supported slavery even though the word never appears in it.
Hampton ran for governor and won by opposing “radical” Republicans and their “radical” ideas about reconstruction. It’s estimated 150 Black South Carolinians were murdered during his campaign for governor, with his encouragement.
Calhoun and Hampton were considered statesmen, but at whose expense?
Do we wish to forget these two? No.
Are these the type of people we want to put in a place of honor?
Aren’t there better representations of what makes our state so great?
Did we send our best?
I’m pretty comfortable with the idea that we shouldn’t be celebrating them. That doesn’t mean we erase them. It means we study them and we learn; rather than put them on a pedestal (literally) so U.S. Capitol tourists see them as the best South Carolina has to offer.
The 1st Congressional District is also home to Mother Emanuel, where six years ago, nine Black church members and leaders of our community were murdered by a White supremacist.
Our district is home to Jamal Sutherland and his family, who just over six months ago was tased to death alone in a jail cell, bothering no one, while his constitutional rights were stripped away.
Our district is a few steps away from Rivers and Remount where Walter Scott was shot in the back and killed for missing alimony payments.
I could go on – but hopefully you understand what I’m getting at.
I have a history of being a strong voice. I’ve never been shy to agree or disagree with Republicans or Democrats. And I won’t stop now.
That’s why I was elected in November because I promised to work hard and I promised to be an independent voice, using the Constitution as my guide.
If we’re truly interested in a color blind society, like we say we are, we need to look at this from the perspective of how everyone would view and hear it, not just one side or one perspective.
Lionizing those who worshipped slavery doesn’t get us there.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t add one more bit of history. A man by the name of Joseph P. Rainey was born a slave and later became the first Black American in the U.S. House of Representatives. He represented our district as a Republican by the way.
Our country needs real, less divisive, less violent leadership on the issue of race and there is no better place to start than in South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District. We have shown tremendous leadership over and over during the toughest times despite our history.
The United States isn’t a racist country. South Carolina isn’t a racist state. And we’ve moved on from our nation’s racist past. It’s time the Capitol does too.
It’s also time for South Carolina to send its best; we can be a beacon and shine.