For Charleston City Councilman Robert Mitchell, no combination of words on a new plaque would make him less resentful of the John C. Calhoun monument in Marion Square.

He said he was arrested practically in the statue's shadow near King and Calhoun streets at age 14 while participating in a civil rights demonstration. He was arrested 24 more times during other protests, fighting for desegregation. 

He sees the Calhoun statue as a symbol of the racist ideology he has fought so hard against.

"I've been in this struggle a long time," Mitchell said. "Those feelings for me can’t change, regardless of the wording ... because of what he stood for at the time."

Even though the proposed plaque for the Calhoun monument is meant to add more context about the South Carolina politician's role as an advocate for race-based slavery, Mitchell and City Council's other three black members say they aren't likely to vote for it.

Without their support, any new plaque would become a reality only if enough white council members approve it. 

That could undermine Mayor John Tecklenburg's goal of confronting the city's racist past not by removing Confederate monuments but by adding more historical context to them.

But coming up with the language for the Calhoun marker has not been a simple task for anyone involved, even those supportive of the mayor's vision. The Commission on History spent hours in meetings over the past several months trying to draft a version that the racially diverse group could agree on.

Once it was approved and sent to City Council on Tuesday, the draft was deferred because council members couldn't agree how to handle it.

They bought some time to weigh their options before the same proposal appears on the next meeting's agenda. They could vote to work on revising it or vote it down altogether and leave the monument as it stands.

Two black councilmen, James Lewis and William Dudley Gregorie, want to forget the plaque and figure out how the city might be able to take down the statue and move it to a museum. 

The problem is the state's Heritage Act, which forbids the removal or relocation of any Confederate memorials without a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.

Gregorie, however, thinks the city should at least attempt to challenge it.

"This is a historical moment in our city, and I don’t want 100 years from now to show that I did not take a stand as an African-American," he said. "Let's do the right thing."

Many of the white council members seem hesitant to take as firm a position, acknowledging that any decision on the plaque is likely to be criticized.

"It’s a difficult situation because you can’t make everyone happy, even as much as you try to compromise," said Councilman Kevin Shealy, who still isn't sure which way he'll vote.

Councilman Mike Seekings said he'd probably approve the plaque if it solely includes statements of historical fact. He's concerned that the language proposed now can be read as opinion because it denounces Calhoun and the group that erected the monument.

"If it’s flawed, let’s do better ... and see if we can come up with something that’s historically accurate and appropriate for 2018," he said.

Black council members, however, think the proposed text already leads with a cascade of Calhoun's achievements as a politician, giving him more credit than the words on the monument now. The existing plaque simply says Calhoun's name, birth and death dates, and the phrase, "Truth, Justice and the Constitution."

"They say he was vice president and all this — but for whom? Not for African-Americans," Mitchell said.

Councilman Keith Waring, who marched as a child with his father alongside Mitchell, said he doesn't think a new plaque would lead to more racial unity in Charleston. However, he wants to keep an open mind if a new version is proposed.

"I have never seen those fundamental changes take place because of a plaque," he said.

Councilman Bill Moody, who serves on the Commission on History, said he doesn't think council members would be able to come up with anything more acceptable than what's proposed. He said he would vote for it the way it is.

"I’m not interested in having a disagreement or argument over words on a statue," he said.

Reach Abigail Darlington at 843-937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail.

Abigail Darlington is a local government reporter focusing primarily on the City of Charleston. She previously covered local arts & entertainment, technology, innovation, tourism and retail for the Post and Courier.