Lowcountry lawmaker reacts to descendants of John C. Calhoun suing City of Charleston over statue removal

South Carolina News

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Descendants of former United States Vice President and known defender of slavery, John C. Calhoun are suing the City of Charleston over his statue being removed from Marion Square in Downtown Charleston last summer.

Some state lawmakers are backing the lawsuit and are threatening to withhold state funding from the city if leaders vote to send Calhoun’s statue to California.

The lawsuit claims the City of Charleston broke a trust to display and protect the statue of John C. Calhoun when it removed the statue over the summer of 2020. Now, relatives of Calhoun and others are seeking to make sure the statue remains here in South Carolina despite efforts of city leaders to lend the statue to a California museum.

The statue of John C. Calhoun stood for more than a hundred years at more than a hundred feet above the City of Charleston. Calhoun’s statue was brought down during the summer of 2020 amid a nationwide examination of historic racism in our nation’s history in the months following the death of George Floyd.

“Charleston’s dignity has been harmed and will be furthered impacted if Calhoun’s statue is displayed,” says Dale Theiling, a Committee Member of the City of Charleston Commission on History.

And while some same the statue shouldn’t be displayed in a museum, others believe it be placed in a public setting where full context of Calhoun’s background can be provided.

“You just can’t make him a wonderful person,” says Mickey Rosenblum, a Committee Member of the City of Charleston Commission on History.

Two descendants of Calhoun are among three plaintiffs filing a lawsuit claiming the City of Charleston has failed it’s responsibility to protect the statue and surrounding grounds, conditions set back in the late 1890s when the statue was erected and granted to the city. State Representative Lin Bennett and others say they agree with the stance.

“There are lots of people across the state unhappy with what has happened with this Calhoun statue,” says Representative Bennett. “Now I know the mayor doesn’t like it, that’s fine. He doesn’t have to like it.”

With city leaders now considering shipping the statue to be displayed in a California museum,
State Representative Bennett and others are threatening to withhold state funding from the city if the statue leaves South Carolina.

“Exactly what it is, it’s a woke crusade,” says Representative Bennett of the statue’s removal. “You know this man is a very important part of our history.”

Representative Bennett also says the city has lost its control over the statue since it violated the trust agreement between the city, Calhoun’s family and the Ladies’ Calhoun Monument Association. She thinks Calhoun’s family decide what comes next for the statue.

“The family wants it back, the city has violated the trust with the family, who gave it to the city,” says Representative Bennett. “Let the family decide.”

The future of John C. Calhoun’s statue remains up in the air, much like the statue of the former Vice President and defender of slavery stood for more than a hundred years.

“And if the mayor doesn’t want it in the City of Charleston, there are things that can be done with it privately,” says Representative Bennett. “But he doesn’t need to be shipping it out of state or trying to destroy anymore of it.”

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson is also listed as a defendant in the lawsuit. State Representative Bennett says she plans to propose a bill in 2022 to withhold funding from the City of Charleston if leaders vote to send it out of the state saying it belongs to the residents of Charleston. State Representative Joe Bustos says he plans to support the bill.

We reached out to the City of Charleston for a response to the lawsuit, they say they don’t comment on pending litigation. The group financially supporting the lawsuit declined to provide further comment. It’s unclear if the lawsuit will impact city council’s vote on whether or not to send John C. Calhoun’s statue to California, a vote expected to happen in January.

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