Stick with the Ravenel Bridge

The Ravenel Bridge. (Wade Spees/Staff)

A plan to name the structure that spans the Cooper River between Charleston and Mount Pleasant the Sweetgrass Skyway, while well-meaning, should not advance in the Legislature.

The Lowcountry certainly takes pride in its tradition of sweetgrass baskets and the culture responsible for them.

As evidence, a seven-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 17 in Mount Pleasant is designated as the Sweetgrass Basket Makers Highway.

And it reflects well on the Charleston area that basketmakers like Mary Jackson have elevated basketmaking to an art form.

But the structure that crosses from Charleston to Mount Pleasant already has a name. It’s the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, named for the man who, while a state senator, helped figure out how to finance the soaring — and pricey — bridge.

Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, the main proponent of the change, insists that his intent in naming the structure the Sweetgrass Skyway is not to do away with the Ravenel name. The Sweetgrass name would apply to the entire structure. The bridge will still be named for Mr. Ravenel.

Clearly, the House of Representatives is comfortable with the idea. It approved the name change unanimously.

But Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, and he doesn’t intend to wade back into the debate that percolated when the bridge was first named for Mr. Ravenel.

While in office, Sen. Ravenel was a plain-spoken politician who seemingly could get away with saying things others couldn’t. Until, at a rally in favor of the Confederate flag, he egregiously referred to the NAACP as “the National Association for Retarded People.” Many were understandably offended, including members of the civil rights organization.

Sen. Ravenel later said he misspoke and apologized to people with mental and physical challenges. But he didn’t apologize to the NAACP, and there has been lingering resentment over his remark.

Even though Rep. Gilliard insists his proposal isn’t intended to replace Mr. Ravenel’s name with the Sweetgrass Skyway, that is what his plan would do.

And whether or not everyone likes it, the bridge is named the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge. Considering his contribution toward getting a long-stalled project off the dime, the recognition is deserved.

By all means, let’s celebrate sweetgrass basketmaking and its enduring presence in Lowcountry culture.

But let’s find ways to do so that don’t serve to diminish the accomplishments of others.