Thanks to Wednesday’s state Supreme Court ruling a super majority, or two-thirds, of the Legislature, is no longer needed to relocate, remove, disturb, or alter monuments or memorials on state or other public land that commemorate the “Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican War, War Between the States (better known as the Civil War), Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War, Native American, or African-American History.”
That’s the good news.
Unfortunately, thanks to the Heritage Act of 2000, the decision to relocate, remove, disturb or alter those monuments and memorials is still in the hands of the state Legislature, an ongoing blow to the state’s treasured concept of home rule.
The decision comes as the result of a lawsuit filed by three Black South Carolinians, including Jennifer Pinckney, the widow of the late state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, who was murdered with eight others by a white supremacist during a Bible study at a Charleston church in 2015. Pinckney was joined by Columbia City Councilman Howard Duvall and former state lawmaker Kay Patterson.
The three challenged the constitutionality of the Heritage Act’s supermajority requirement and its essential ban on local decision making when it comes to such monuments and memorials.
In its 22-page ruling, the court recounted the history of the act, passed as part of a hard fought compromise to remove the Confederate flag from the Capitol dome in Columbia.
“After decades of controversy, members who opposed removing the flag from the dome of the Capitol became willing to compromise if given the assurance that doing so would not “open the floodgates,” and if the renaming and removal of other historic items could be prevented,” the court wrote.
It continued, “Thus, the “pro-flag” legislators agreed to remove the Confederate flag from the State House dome, but in anticipation of further efforts to rename or remove other memorials, agreed to do so only if those memorials would be protected.”
State Attorney General Alan Wilson welcomed the court’s decision.
“I want to thank the Supreme Court for a very scholarly, well-considered, and well-documented opinion,” Wilson wrote in a statement. “Their unanimous ruling confirms our earlier opinion on the Heritage Act. We agree with the Court that the compromise concerning the Flag and which led to passage of the Heritage Act is one of the great achievements in South Carolina history.”
Yes, the battle over the Confederate flag atop the State House was at best contentious and at the time the compromise was almost certainly necessary for South Carolina to move forward, but 21 years later as attitudes and circumstances change it may also be time to recognize that individual communities have their own unique histories and challenges.
A new generation of South Carolinians is growing up and developing its own way to deal with the state’s complicated past including slavery and segregation.
As State Rep. Seth Rose told The State, “I remain hopeful that ‘Pitch Fork’ Ben Tillman will be removed from the State House grounds if not by us — then certainly our youth that will one day lead.”
If home rule still exists in South Carolina, the Legislature should reconsider its stance and give the power to relocate, remove, disturb, or alter monuments or memorials back to the people who live here and the generations to come.