COLUMBIA — While politicians in other states work to remove Confederate monuments from public spaces, lawmakers in South Carolina say there are no plans for anything similar in the Palmetto State.
Clashes over the planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Va., turned deadly this weekend, but South Carolina activists on both sides of the issue hope the state's residents remain civil as they continue to hold rallies in support of their stances.
South Carolina legislators in July 2015 voted to remove the Confederate battle flag from Statehouse grounds after Dylann Roof shot and killed nine black parishioners at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. Roof, who said he hoped to ignite a "race war," was seen in pictures posted online posing with the banner. A Confederate soldier memorial remains at the Statehouse.
A spokeswoman for House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Hartsville, said Monday that Lucas maintains there will be no further changes to Confederate monuments as long as he is speaker, reiterating Lucas' 2015 statement that said, "Debate over this issue will not be expanded or entertained."
Gov. Henry McMaster echoed the desire for the remaining monuments to stay put.
"We have been over these issues over the years," McMaster said, speaking Monday at a job fair for laid-off workers from the now-cancelled V.C. Summer nuclear project. "I think our people are different."
Self-identified white supremacists groups descended on Charlottesville for a "Unite the Right" rally after its city council voted to remove the statue of Lee from a public park.
The event drew large crowds of counter-protesters, leading to violent confrontations between the two groups. The driver of a Dodge Challenger rammed into the crowd before fleeing the scene, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring several more people. The suspected driver, 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. of Maumee, Ohio, faces charges including second-degree murder, according to local authorities.
Despite Lucas' refusal to consider changing any additional Confederate monuments, local officials across the state have urged the Legislature to allow them to remove certain commemorations.
For example, representatives at The Citadel have voiced their desire to remove the Confederate Naval Jack from Summerall Chapel, but the school cannot lawfully remove it because of the Heritage Act. That law, passed in 2000, requires a two-thirds vote in the General Assembly to determine the fate of historic markers and monuments on public property.
In Orangeburg, the owner of Edisto River Creamery & Kitchen tried unsuccessfully to remove a flag flying on a small piece of land owned by the Sons of Confederate Veterans in front of his shop. A city zoning board ruled earlier this month that the flag flying on 0.003 acres deeded to the Confederate group did not violate the law.
And on Sunday, members of the National Action Network in Charleston called on local and state officials to remove the monument of former South Carolina statesman John C. Calhoun — a staunch defender of slavery during his political tenure in the 1800s — that towers above Marion Square.
Thomas Dixon, founder of social justice activist group The Coalition: People United To Take Back Our Community and candidate for North Charleston mayor in 2019, said while he supports National Action Network's long-term goal of positioning Confederate monuments within the context of history, he plans to urge lawmakers to repeal the Heritage Act completely.
"That way they can place these monuments where they belong — in museums and on private property," he said.
While clashes between those who support the Confederacy and those who oppose it have mostly remained peaceful in South Carolina, there has been tension.
Eight days after the Confederate flag was removed from the Statehouse, members of the New Black Panther Party and the Ku Klux Klan held opposing rallies on Capitol grounds that led to a few scuffles and five arrests.
Folly Beach Mayor Tim Goodwin has suggested removing the Folly boat after members of the S.C. Secessionists Party and other area residents took turns painting over each other's messages in recent months. During one incident, party Chairman James Bessenger accused a woman of assaulting him with a paint roller.
That wasn't the only time Bessenger said he's been assaulted. He told police in June that a woman intentionally backed her car into him after she ripped a Confederate flag vanity plate off the truck of another flag supporter.
But Bessenger said he believes things have remained relatively civil because of South Carolinians' general respect for each other. He scheduled a meeting with Johnathan Thrower, a North Charleston resident who goes by Shakem Akhet and has been active in political protests, to discuss ways to keep things safe.
"He wants to meet and talk about how we can go forward, at least here in Charleston, even though they want the monuments taken down and we want them to stay up," Bessenger said of Thrower. "So we're going to talk about how we can both get our points across but hope that it stays peaceful."
Andrew Brown contributed to this report.