The group that helped bring down the Silent Sam Confederate statue in Chapel Hill, N.C., now has its eye set on the Calhoun monument in Charleston.
The Make It Right Campaign, a national organization seeking to remove Confederate-related monuments across the United States, made its first stop in Charleston on Thursday, April 11, appearing at Redux Contemporary Art Center as part of the three-month Standing/Still multidisciplinary art series meant to spur change.
"Artists, in general, are always on the front lines, because in art, there is this inherent element of creating change or challenging the status quo," said Make It Right Director Kali Holloway.
Also on the program were DJ Sista Misses, who spun some protest beats, and Charleston poet laureate Marcus Amaker, who gave a reading.
More collaborative events between the art gallery and the Make It Right Campaign are in the works, with a focus on the Calhoun monument in Marion Square. The group wants the monument removed, not merely amended or contextualized, as proposed in 2017 by Mayor John Tecklenburg.
"I’m not interested in this effort being about conversations," Holloway said. "We’ve had enough conversations. We need action. It has the potential to be a shock wave that goes on for thousands of miles."
The Make It Right Campaign set out in June 2018 targeting 10 monuments, and they're not all in the South. One is in Seattle, another in Chicago.
"The Confederacy was not just in the South," Holloway said. "It was a mindset that went all over the country."
There are three monuments on the list in Texas, one in Florida, one in Virginia, one in West Virginia and one in South Carolina. The Silent Sam monument that the group targeted in Chapel Hill, N.C., has since been removed, narrowing the target list to nine.
The conversation about the Lowcountry's Confederate-related monuments ramped up after the Emanuel AME Church shooting in June 2015, just a block from Marion Square where the Calhoun monument stands. Now that the area has been dedicated as the Mother Emanuel Memorial District, some have been giving more thought to the Calhoun monument and what it represents.
Charleston City Councilman William Dudley Gregorie, a lifetime Emanuel AME Church member who has been pushing for the removal of the monument, also attended the Standing/Still event.
"Growing up here in Charleston and having to pass that statue going to church always invoked in my sister, brothers and I this sense of why is this here, what is this here to remind us of?" Gregorie said from the audience. "My parents told us we have to understand why we give up our rights for others' wrongs, and sometimes we have to do that because it’s about survival."
Minerva King, an educator who works with the Charleston Area Justice Ministry, said she got more out of the event than she expected.
"I got a certain spirit, an interest, optimism about the fact that it can be done and has been done in other cities," said the lifelong Charleston resident, daughter of the late South Carolina NAACP President J. Arthur Brown. "It's not going to be easy, because old ideas are hard to get rid of, especially in a place like Charleston."
While many were there to support the removal effort, some were there to merely observe.
"I am looking to hear what the community conversations are surrounding this issue,” said Joy Bivins, chief curator at the International African American Museum. "I'm interested in hearing the local response and how that’s connected to other cities and communities."
An historian from Orangeburg also was taking in the local response. Elizabeth Robeson has been studying race relations in the South, especially since the 2015 church shooting in Charleston.
Robeson attended high school in the early 1970s and experienced desegregation with the merging of Orangeburg and Wilkinson high schools. She said she noticed the call to remove Confederate monuments gained momentum at that time of the church shooting.
“I’m interested to know what the ground looks like and what the game plan is," she said. "I’m also interested in the pushback. The monument conversation is very complex, and this is the start of a conversation with a lot of pain associated.”
Other local historians have mixed opinions on the matter.
Bernard Powers, retired professor of African-American history at the College of Charleston and chief historian on the strategic planning group for the International African American Museum, has spoken in support of monument amendment.
"I remain committed to leaving these monuments in place, with the caveat that it depends on what the monument is and the context of the monument," he said during an interview with The Post and Courier in 2017 when Mayor John Tecklenberg first looked at amending the monument's plaque.
Amanda Mushal, a Citadel professor specializing in the history of the South, noted that modifying or removing a monument is not akin to destroying history, as some have argued.
"Monuments and memorials are objects of memory, and memory is always selective," she said. "We choose which parts of our history to honor."
The Make It Right Campaign, since collaborating with Charleston artists, has created billboard designs that call for the removal of the Calhoun monument and a resolution to repeal the South Carolina Heritage Act. The proposed resolution has been presented to the mayor. In the coming months, Holloway will be working with more Charleston artists and activists to bolster this movement, she said.
Among the local individuals and groups participating in the series are a graphic designer, a playwright, a hip-hop artist, a musical theater performer, a poet and political activist, a troupe of contemporary dancers and a mobile app company.
Amaker's poem "Stagnation," which he recited at Redux, specifically references the Calhoun monument.
"America, your fetish for warfare has erected stagnant symbols of oppression," Amaker read. "No system rooted in racism will ever empathize, but you can. History cannot rewrite itself, but you can."