The South Carolina Heritage Act means that anyone who wants to change the parts of our history that we honor must use addition rather than subtraction: cities, counties and colleges cannot demolish monuments, but they can build new ones. . They cannot rename buildings, but they can name new ones as they wish. And they can explain whatever they want.
The addition of new names is the most discussed part of the recommendations approved Friday by the Presidential Commission on Academic History at the University of South Carolina, which was established months before a nationwide wake-up call on the responsibility of the police does turn into a much more confrontational attack on monuments. to white supremacists and other historical figures who supported segregation or slavery.
Check That: The most discussed part was the commission’s recommendation to start with a small subtraction: a doomed suggestion to remove the names of 11 of these Southern Carolinians from campus buildings. (USC doesn’t have any problematic monuments, but it does have these immutable building names.)
But even though the board immediately followed up on the commission’s suggestion to nominate 16 buildings, squares and other places for notable black figures, the important buildings already named for people as students, administration and even the more conservative directors would not honor today. will remain the landmarks of the campus.
And that brings us to the most exciting part of the USC Campus History Project: the background.
One of my big disappointments with South Carolina’s efforts to combat symbols that celebrate segregation and idealize Civil War has been just about everyone’s refusal to add context to the monuments that the legislature will not agree to remove and buildings that can’t be renamed. It’s as if people would rather complain about what they aren’t allowed to do (and maybe shouldn’t do) than do what they can to help us learn from our mistakes.
Four years ago, the mayor of Charleston, John Tecklenburg, proposed erecting plaques to explain who John C. Calhoun was and how his image had come to dominate the city. As he explained at the time, “A hundred years from now you want people to know all that the whites who were in charge here have done to try to put racial barriers back in place” after the Civil War.
It was a pragmatic idea that appealed to the large sensitive center which does not like the way the neo-confederates whitewash our history but also does not like the idea of demolishing monuments. So of course that never happened: Extremists on the “heritage” side didn’t want anyone to point out that Mr. Calhoun viewed slavery as a positive good and provided the intellectual foundation for Confederation. Extremists on the demolition side would hear of nothing less than reducing the monument to rubble.
Other communities have not even discussed this approach.
But when I spoke with Acting USC President Harris Pastides before the university’s history commission released its report, he described an upcoming campaign to add that context to all names. buildings that so many students find objectionable. (He also described the students he met over the years who did not enter the Strom Thurmond Wellness Center because the name made them feel “vulnerable and threatened.”)
Imagine walking near the Strom, which is bizarrely the No.1 target for the demolishing mob, and seeing a giant billboard that highlights Mr Thurmond’s presidential campaign to preserve segregation, his obstruction against the Civil Rights Act of 1957, his out-child from the marriage of his family’s 15-year-old dark maid – as well as his work to abolish the voting tax and prosecute lynchers and his close connections with prominent Democrats such as Rep. American Jim Clyburn and current President Joe Biden. Imagine there was a button to press to listen to the complicated legacy of the former governor and senator, and a code to search for a website with an exhaustive history. You can listen to a mid-length version on the university walking tour app, much like what you would hear on a self-guided museum tour.
The scene is repeated in the other 10 buildings named after people the commission and Dr Pastides consider unworthy of such honors in 21st century South Carolina.
“I think it will be difficult if you are a visitor or a user of the building to avoid knowing the history or the biography of these people,” he told me on Wednesday. “This is my hope: not that if you want to you can find out, but that it would be hard not to find out.”
He plans to populate a new website with an unbiased look at the people behind all the names on campus (a good start is in Friday’s report), turning that information into a booklet for freshmen. entrants during orientation, possibly taught in the compulsory course of University 101.. He wants an interactive map, these audio walking tours and classes that elaborate on the history of the university.
He plans to establish an annual week or month focused on the history of the university, with faculty and students encouraged to “create display panels that can be placed in or around buildings that can’t be. renowned because of the Heritage Act “and” to “make films or paint or compose music or develop signage or other educational materials for us or for visitors.
I don’t think Dr Pastides would ever suggest that the Heritage Act is a good thing; I know I never would. But he correctly noted that “when a name is gone, there can also be a lost opportunity to learn,” and said the law forced the university to “educate and contextualize.” That is, to do what a university is supposed to do.
“It’s ironic how much that forces you to reach about as hard as you can to educate,” he said. “And if we didn’t have that, I wonder if we would have been content to just drop some names and move on without educating.”
Cindi Ross Scoppe is a columnist for The Post and Courier. Contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Facebook or Twitter @cindiscoppe.