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Man explains why he helped desegregate war memorial plaques

July 8, 2018

In a July 7, 2018 photo, State Rep. Anne Parks, D-Greenwood, and local resident Trey Ward stand next to a recently desegregated war memorial in Greenwood, South Carolina. Ward swapped out nameplates of fallen World War I and World War II soldiers listed by race with ones that display the names alphabetically. Ward says he was tired of the city receiving negative attention for the memorial. (Adam Benson/The Index-Journal via AP)

GREENWOOD, S.C. (AP) — A South Carolina man who swapped out a town’s segregated memorial plaques to the two world wars says he was tired of the city receiving negative attention for the memorial.

Trey Ward spoke Saturday to a group of Democrats in Greenwood about installing new plaques that listed the names in alphabetical order instead of separating “colored” soldiers who died in World War I and World War II, according to The Index-Journal .

“The reason I got involved in this, every time national media came to Greenwood, the first thing they did is go down to the square and write about the monument that lists the valor of dead black soldiers as ‘colored.’ It was a in a way, our calling card on our Main Street,” Ward said.

Several local men had previously filed a lawsuit in 2015 to have the monument revamped, and the mayor had raised money to pay to have new plaques made.

“I really, really do not deserve any credit for this at all. All I really did was turn some screws on a plate, and I stand on the shoulders of a lot of great people in this community that really did this,” Ward told the group of Democrats, who honored him at their monthly meeting.

Ward, who accepted a symbolic $1 to do the modification job, also said he was inspired to action by growing up in the era when schools were integrated.

State law generally prohibits alterations to monuments without state approval. That law was enacted to protect monuments during debate over removing the Confederate flag from atop the Statehouse.

A judge ruled in favor of the veterans group seeking to have the listing on the Greenwood monument changed. However, the issue was still being litigated when Ward took action.

The judge noted the monument was privately owned by the American Legion, even though it sits on public property. The judge said private ownership allows for changes despite the state law known as the Heritage Act.

State officials initially asked the judge to reconsider because they think the decision could leave other monuments unprotected. After the monument was changed, the defendants asked the judge to vacate his ruling, saying that after the plaque switch the issue is moot.

“Simply put, there now is nothing left for the Court to do and nothing left for the Court to enforce,” the defendants’ attorneys wrote in a motion to vacate a ruling. “The plaques were replaced by a person not a party to this case and, thus, the case was mooted by a non-party without regard to the actual legal issues pending in this case.”

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