COLUMBIA (AP) Lawyers for the state of South Carolina say about 170 Confederate monuments may have lost state protection because of a judge’s decision allowing racial references to be removed from a World War I monument that lists fallen soldiers as “white” or “colored.”
The state is asking Circuit Judge Frank Addy to reconsider his ruling that allows the town of Greenwood to remove racial references from a private monument there.
Addy ruled last month that Greenwood could replace the plaques on its World War I memorial, removing the races of those killed, without breaking the state’s Heritage Act. His reasoning: Even though the monument sits on public property, it is owned by the private American Legion.
The Heritage Act prevents changes to public monuments honoring the Confederacy and other historical events and figures without a two-thirds vote of the Legislature.
The Greenwood dispute arose when the Heritage Act was invoked to halt efforts to replace the existing memorial plaque with one that did not segregate the names of area soldiers killed in World War I. In response, several people associated with the American Legion in Greenwood went to court.
Addy specifically refused to address the Heritage Act’s constitutionality, instead, writing in his ruling that he reached his decision with “full respect for and agreement with the laudable objectives of the (Heritage) Act.”
However, lawyers for the state said Addy went too far in parsing the language of lawmakers as he tried to allow Greenwood to put up its new plaques while still protecting the law.
“So long as a monument has been erected on government property, it is protected by the Heritage Act,” they wrote in their motion to reconsider.
The state also pointed out that the American Legion itself didn’t sue, and the group is the monument’s owner.
The request to Addy to reconsider his ruling notes that more than 170 Confederate monuments in South Carolina were bought by private groups like the Sons of Confederate Veterans or the Daughters of the Confederacy and given to towns to place on public property. The private groups are to maintain the monuments so local governments won’t have to spend money and time.
Addy’s ruling would “exclude from the ‘laudable objectives’ of the Heritage Act … numerous monuments and memorials throughout the state, even though the Heritage Act was enacted precisely for the purpose of protecting all memorials and monuments located on government property,” the state’s lawyers wrote.
South Carolina’s General Assembly passed the Heritage Act in 2000 as part of a compromise that removed the Confederate flag from the Statehouse dome and placed it on the Capitol lawn.
Lawmakers voted to remove the Confederate flag altogether from the Statehouse — with the required two-thirds vote — in the summer of 2015 after nine people, including a state senator, were killed in a racist attack at an African-American church in Charleston. Shortly after that vote, House Speaker Jay Lucas said his chamber would not consider changing any monuments or other items honoring the Confederacy or other historical eras.
Lucas, a Republican from Hartsville, has given no indication he has changed his mind. Any effort to repeal the Heritage Act or change monuments since has gone nowhere in the Legislature even as other Southern cities like Memphis, Tennessee, and New Orleans have removed Confederate monuments.