Meriwether monument receives attention across U.S., disapproval at home
Over a year ago, North Augustan Ken Makin stood at the front of the North Augusta Council Chambers and called for North Augusta City Council to take down or denounce the 21-foot tall Meriwether monument in Calhoun Park.
After a year of studying, North Augusta’s Mayor Bob Pettit issued a one-page recommendation as part of a hundreds-page document on the monument and what to do about it.
The issue around the monument is the inflammatory wording and that it only memorializes Thomas McKie Meriwether, the one white man of eight men who died during the Hamburg Massacre.
The monument refers to the “civic and social institutions” that men and women of Meriwether’s race “struggled through the centuries to establish in South Carolina.”
Pettit put together an ad hoc committee to study the monument and form the recommendation.
“From the beginning, I have been focused on what to do, and very little on the message on the monument,” he said. “My approach on every issue is to understand the situation as it exists, and then work toward accomplishing the best approach or alternative. Obviously, this study was undertaken because of the inscription on the monument. But once I became aware of the inscription, my sole intent was to determine the best action to address the situation.”
Pettit’s recommendation concluded the monument itself, and its location, not be changed, but that an “education experience” be added. The education experience should include, the recommendation says, a summary of events that occurred at the Hamburg Massacre; the names of the black men who were killed; and discussion of Reconstruction, the accomplishments of African-American citizens, the Jim Crow era and the Civil Rights Era.
The recommendation also says there should be permanently installed features of similar size to the existing monument to display the information.
Pettit’s recommendation included opening a design competition for the area and structures around the monument.
He said how the competition would be conducted was yet to be defined. “Previously, I have experience reviewing design competition entries. I found the entries to have exciting creativity and relevant messaging. I believe an opportunity to design educational additions to J.C. Calhoun Park would elicit a sizable number of diverse and interesting options,” Pettit said.
The next steps for the monument would be to have a discussion with City Council “to understand their thoughts and opinions,” Pettit said.
“After that occurs, I expect to work with (City Administrator Todd Glover) and staff to develop a plan and a schedule consistent with what Council thinks needs to be done. I expect there will be formal Council action at some point on a Resolution presented for Council approval. I fully expect the overall approach to be decided, probably after the New Year,” Pettit said.
The monument has received national media attention since Pettit introduced the recommendation, but he said it has not changed his approach to the monument, and said addressing the situation is “the appropriate thing to do.”
Makin, host of the “Makin’ A Difference” podcast, said Pettit was right to take his time on the issue, but said adding adjacent monuments to the black victims of the massacre “creates a false equivalence between white supremacy and Black liberation.”
“The ideal move would have been to take the monument down,” Makin said.
“The fact that it remains is an indictment of the City of North Augusta, to include its city officials and its residents,” Makin said. “There should be a unified movement from anyone and everyone who has a moral conscience to take the hateful obelisk down.”
Makin mentioned other racial problems in the area, such as the park in which the monument stands, John C. Calhoun Park, and Strom Thurmond High School.
Makin and Pettit each mentioned the Heritage Act, which prevents the altering, removal, or relocation of Confederate, war and Civil Rights monuments in the state.
Makin pointed to society and the media’s views of racial healing in regards to the monument.
“I have regularly heard excuses about the monument to the effect of, ‘you can’t change history,’ or, ‘the past is the past.’ This is a convenient and insensitive response that disregards the terrorism of the Hamburg Massacre and the events that follow, all the way up to the present day,” Makin said.
“Such excuses also fail to inquire about the thoughts and feelings of black folk, as well as other people of color. Because we have failed to deal with racism in the past, it continues to rear its ugly head in the present, and not just through monuments,” he said.