Activists across Charleston called on South Carolina lawmakers Tuesday to repeal or amend the state's Heritage Act to empower cities, counties and universities to remove Confederate monuments and memorials.
"It is time for South Carolina to move into the 21st century," said the Rev. Joseph Darby, first vice president of the Charleston branch of the NAACP, "so those who claim they want to decentralize government and who claim they want to give people local control can."
James Johnson and Tyler Bryant of the National Action Network joined state Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, in a separate news conference Tuesday beneath the Marion Square statue of John C. Calhoun.
Gilliard said repealing the Heritage Act "is the only way statues as such are going to be taken down in the state of South Carolina in a peaceful, lawful manner."
Across the country, other groups and voices have joined in calls for removing Confederate monuments and memorials following a weekend clash in Charlottesville, Va., between white supremacists and those protesting them. Some cities have begun taking down monuments while others have signaled their intention to do so.
The clash resulted in one death and multiple injuries and has ignited a national conversation. Two state troopers also died in a nearby helicopter crash.
Mindful of that recent violence and the strong emotions that often arise, some called for denouncing white supremacy while promoting unity and love.
In another news conference Tuesday, S.C. Secessionist Party leader James Bessenger stood alongside black community organizer Johnathan Thrower as both pledged to work together to discourage violence in Charleston.
"Charleston has every bit of potential to become the next Charlottesville," Bessenger said. "The only way that we are going to prevent something like that happening is the leadership on both sides to do the right thing and extend the hand of peace to one another."
The result is "The Charleston Accord," a document both described as a pledge to work together to encourage dialogue between communities with opposing beliefs and to discourage and prevent violence.
"What we want to do is show that we can have intelligent discourse among each other without violence," said Thrower, who also goes by the name Shakem Amen Akhet. "We want to be responsible with our rhetoric. We can be civil in our actions and still be able to disagree man to man."
Later Tuesday, Charleston City Council passed a resolution rejecting "the message of all hate groups" and renouncing "racism, white supremacy, anti-Semitism, the KKK, neo-Nazis, domestic terrorism and hatred." It said those spreading hatred, bigotry and violence "have no place in the city."
Thrower said he'd also like to see the Calhoun statue removed, while Bessenger said Confederate monuments are part of history and should stay on display.
"We have agreed to discourage illegal activity in our state where this debate is concerned, like what we saw in Durham, N.C., last night, where protesters climbed up and ripped the monument down," Bessenger said. "If we want monuments down in South Carolina, there's a mechanism for that."
But the mechanism hinges on support from a super-majority vote of state lawmakers, without which the state's local governments and other state institutions find their hands tied.
The Heritage Act was part of a compromise that removed the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse dome in 2000, and it forbids any other public removal of other flags or memorials from the Confederacy without a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.
That's happened only once: After white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine worshippers at Charleston's Emanuel AME Church, lawmakers voted to remove the flag from a monument on the Statehouse grounds.
Darby said the NAACP has been talking to lawmakers about legislation to address the Heritage Act, but he declined to say who might prefile a bill.
The National Action Network called for removal of the Calhoun monument. Calhoun died before the Civil War, but his writings helped underpin secessionist voices and the later emergence of the Confederacy.
Dot Scott of the Charleston NAACP branch cited the statue in her remarks.
"Separating Confederate heritage from racial hatred today is like trying to separate grits from the water they were cooked in," she said. "It's impossible."
Tuesday's speakers didn't limit themselves to monuments.
Johnson of the National Action Network called for African-American Charleston City Council members to be more responsive to gentrification that is displacing the city's black residents and for Charleston County school officials to improve the teaching of local history.
He shouted his words at times and cautioned, "If we have to bring Charlottesville, Virginia, to South Carolina, we will do that."
Gilliard also called for more economic equality, particularly in the city's multibillion-dollar tourism industry, which he criticized for a lack of black hotels, restaurants and parks. "We're causing a divide in this city, and it's dangerous."
Darby noted the Heritage Act also has blocked The Citadel’s efforts to remove a Confederate flag from its Summerall Chapel, a move to amend a World War I memorial in Greenwood and portraits of Confederate generals in a Rock Hill courtroom.
“This goes well beyond Charleston and John C. Calhoun,” he said.
The Calhoun statue is a different case because Marion Square is owned not by the city but by the Washington Light Infantry and the Sumter Guards, two of several militia groups that received the land from the state in 1832 but the only two that survive.
Carl Beckman, vice chairman of the Washington Light Infantry and the Sumter Guard's board for Marion Square, said the Calhoun statue is actually owned by the city, which also may own the portion of land underneath it. "We’re checking into that (ownership)," Beckman said. "We’re not sure."
While some have doubted whether lawmakers will revisit the Heritage Act, Johnson said many people said the Confederate flag would not come down from the Statehouse, "but it came down."
Brenda Rindge contributed to this report.