The national debate over removing Confederate monuments is not somebody else’s thorny issue. Fort Mill has a Confederate Park on Main Street, and in that park stand four monuments honoring the Confederacy.
Among those four monuments is one that honors “faithful slaves” who supported the Confederate Army. The other monuments honor Confederate soldiers, Confederate women, and Catawba Indians, including tribal members who supported and fought for the Confederacy.
There is nothing anyone in Fort Mill can do about it.
The S.C. Heritage Act puts decisions concerning all public Confederate monuments squarely in the hands of legislators -- not the public, and not the towns or cities or counties.
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The monuments now are town property. They were put in the park more than 100 years ago when the site was private property. They were placed there by a private citizen, said Guynn Savage, Fort Mill’s mayor. The monuments were put up by Samuel White, Savage said. The “Jefferson Davis Memorial Association” also was involved with building the structures. Davis was the president of the Confederacy.
Confederate monuments, no matter how they came to be in the public domain, are covered under the South Carolina Heritage Act, Savage said. Town officials, therefore, have “no leeway” to make any decision concerning their fate.
S.C. Rep. John King, D-Rock Hill, chair of the S.C. Black Caucus and York County’s only black legislator, has called for repeal of the Heritage Act and removal of statues and monuments that “divide our state.” South Carolina’s legislative leaders have said repeatedly that the General Assembly will not enter into any debate to change the S.C. Heritage Act.
A monument in Fort Mill with the words “faithful slaves” shows that such sites have “no place” in 2017 South Carolina, King said. He said the Heritage Act continues to keep the people of South Carolina, especially black people, without any recourse have such monuments taken down.
In Fort Mill, the monument has not been the subject of much debate.
On the side of the monument, it says it was put up in 1895.
Words etched on it say “1860 Dedicated to the faithful slaves who, loyal to a sacred trust, toiled for the support of the Army. With matchless devotion and with sterling fidelity guarded our defenseless homes, women and children during the struggle for principles of our Confederate States of America. 1865.”
There have been a “handful” of questions to town officials about the monuments, Savage said.
Savage said she is open to hearing from the town’s residents about concerns, because leaders are supposed to listen to concerns. But as the law stands, the town has no role in any decision.
Dylan Holmes, a York County native whose parents were legendary teachers first in York County segregated black schools then integrated schools, and whose parents traced family history back to slavery, said the monument should be an important part of the current national debate over monuments, slavery, race, and what place -- if any -- they should have.
“It is important and that monument should be talked about,” Holmes said.
Fort Mill Town Councilman Larry Huntley said he hadn’t been confronted with the issue, but the debate about monuments has reignited across the country since the recent violent protests in Charlottesville, Va.
Huntley said the monuments should stay up because they are a part of Fort Mill’s history.
“I think they should stay if for nothing else to show how far we have progressed,” Huntley said.
Savage and Huntley said it was wrong for protesters to pull down a Confederate statue in Durham. Huntley also said there have been places where democratic discussion and votes led to removals -- Charlottesville planned to take down a Robert E. Lee Statue; and New Orleans city elected officials voted to take down Confederate statues.
Democracy won in those places, Huntley said. He said he has no problem with discussing the issue.