Jun. 23—As the South Carolina Supreme Court hears challenges to whether or not the state's Heritage Act is unconstitutional, the fate of a divisive monument in the heart of North Augusta continues to be left in limbo.
The Heritage Act "prohibits the relocation, removal, disturbance, or alteration of monuments or memorials erected on public property of the State or any of its political subdivisions to the 'Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican War, War Between the States, Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War, Native American, or African American History,'" according to the South Carolina Code of Laws.
This controversy in North Augusta stems from the Meriwether Monument that was created from events in the Hamburg Massacre. One white man and seven Black men were killed in this event in 1876.
The Meriwether Monument in North Augusta was created to honor the white man, Thomas McKie Meriwether. As reported previously, the monument states Meriwether, who is called a "young hero" on one side of the obelisk, "found forever the greatful (sic) remembrance of all who know high and generous service in the maintaining of those civic and social institutions which the men and women of his race had struggled through the centuries to establish in South Carolina."
Some South Carolina lawmakers do not feel like it is appropriate to comment on what to do about the monument yet.
"I'm not saying one way or another anything about it until the Supreme Court says what they're going to do because, I mean, I've lived here all my life — that monument has been here all of my life right in the middle of Georgia Avenue — and until the Supreme Court rules on whether or not the Heritage Act is constitutional, all of our hands are tied," said S.C. Rep. Bill Hixon, who represents North Augusta.
The Meriwether Monument still stands in Calhoun Park in North Augusta after the city sent a letter seeking advisement on what to do with the monument to the S.C. Legislature last October. The legislature session came to an ended last month, and North Augusta City Administrator Jim Clifford said he does not have any updates when it comes to the monument.
"It sounds to me like the first step regardless or how we decide to do is to get an opinion, a ruling or whatever you would call it from the legislature, for them to clarify whether or not it's their belief it belongs to the city or belongs to the state," said City Council member Kevin Toole in a previous article on Aug. 10, 2020.
City Council member Pat Carpenter agreed.
She wants the city to take the proper steps and find out first who the monument belongs to, calling the inscription on the monument "horrible." She added that if she had it her way the monument would come down.
"If it was a gift to the city of North Augusta — if I gave any of you a gift and you did not like it, then you have the right to get rid of it," Carpenter said.
The city has not received a response to its letter, said Clifford.
There were protests around the monument last summer and there have been many discussions within city council and the community about how to address the monument that was built over a century ago.
North Augusta's Calhoun Park Committee suggested a plan to put interpretive panels around the monument to give the full history of the Hamburg massacre, said Trina Mackie, a former member of the Calhoun Park Committee. City Council members Pat Carpenter, Jenafer McCauley and David McGhee all agreed with the interpretive panel's idea during the 2021 North Augusta Municipal Election Candidate Forum in April.
McGhee said those events from that day were "tragic, tragic for all people, tragic for the community as a whole" and he could not imagine being in that time period, but he knows that the monument does not reflect North Augusta today.
In July 2020, S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson sent a letter to North Augusta city attorney Kelly Zier explaining how, in his opinion, the Meriwether Monument does not fall under the Heritage Act.
Wilson said in his letter that the Meriwether Monument itself states it was created "by the act of General Assembly" long before the Heritage Act was enacted and advised that North Augusta proceed directly to the General Assembly for relief from the offensive nature of the monument.
Kenton Makin, the host of the "Makin' A Difference" podcast, sent letters in January of this year to all of the South Carolina legislators and has not received any responses. In a previous article from Jan. 11 of this year, Makin explained what his letter requested.
"I am reaching out for your assistance in resolving a matter of white supremacy in North Augusta, South Carolina ... I am reaching out to each member of the General Assembly with the expectation that you all will not only denounce, but demand the immediate removal of this abhorrent and ahistorical obelisk," the letter reads.
As local officials await the decision from the S.C. Supreme Court, Makin is disappointed with the progress of the monument's removal.
"I've come to the reality that it's about more than the monument — it's about a decision that's been made by local and state officials to embrace and uphold white supremacy," Makin said.
Makin expressed that the elected officials and others who idolize these individuals (Calhoun, Meriwether and Hampton) are clearly unwilling to change, and it is not enough to vote them out, because the ideology remains.
"Anyone who upholds that monument is not fit for public office," Makin said. "They should either resign or be removed because there is no place for white supremacy in a governing body that literally dictates what happens on a day-to-day basis in North Augusta."
According to the Associated Press, the S.C. Supreme Court heard its first challenge to the state law protecting Confederate and other historical monuments on May 25, questioning if the act was constitutional.
South Carolina's five justices questioned several aspects of the law during the hourlong hearing and still no decision was made.