South Carolina mayor shocked to discover state law bars him from desegregating war memorial
A South Carolina mayor has met strong opposition as he tries to desegregate a memorial honoring fallen troops who fought in World War I and II.
Mayor Welborn Adams said the war memorial, which divides the fallen into “white” and “colored” lists, is a relic from the South’s racist past that he believes should be updated, reported the Associated Press.
The Democratic-leaning mayor raised $15,000 from 43 donors, including $1,000 of his own money, to help pay for a new plaque.
But his efforts are blocked by a state law – which forbids alterations to historical monuments without legislative approval – that brought down the Confederate flag from the Statehouse in 2000.
Adams said he’s met opposition from residents who were angered when he was quoted in a local newspaper article saying, “I think if history offends people it needs to be rewritten, if possible.”
The mayor admits he did not choose his words carefully, saying that he meant to say that communities can change the way they present themselves in spite of their history.
Opponents threatened to have Adams arrested, possibly on an official misconduct charge, if he went forward with his plan to change the plaque.
Adams said he cried in his office, just days before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, when the city attorney notified him that opponents had interpreted the law correctly.
Under the statute, no historical monument erected by state or local government may be relocated, removed, or altered without a two-thirds vote by the state legislature.
The law was passed to placate residents who worried that other Confederate memorials would be torn down after the flag was removed from the Statehouse dome following a lengthy and contentious political fight.
A bill has been filed seeking to change the Greenwood memorial, and about half of the state Senate has signed on as sponsors, but some lawmakers who were there when the flag issue was debated said they were wary of the issue.
“I’ll look at the bill, but I don’t want to reopen the whole debate,” said state Sen. John Courson, (R-Columbia) a state senator since 1985. “That was last century’s battle.”
Some local historic preservationists, including a former U.S. Park Service historian and an activist who sleeps in slave cabins to promote their preservation, said the monument reflects segregation as the accepted order when the wars were fought and then memorialized.
The local activist compared changing the plaque to schools banning “Huckleberry Finn” due to its racist but historically accurate language.
But Adams, who has served as mayor since 2008 of a town that’s about 45 percent black, said he doubts the motivations of some opponents.
“I wonder if some of the opposition is racism hiding behind history,” Adams said.
Listen to an interview with the mayor posted online by AEVisiongwd: