NORTH AUGUSTA, SC (WJBF) – As session started back up this year for South Carolina lawmakers, a group of North Augusta citizens made sure their voices of concern about the Thomas Meriwether Monument made it to the statehouse in Columbia.
“We were falling short with the City of North Augusta,” said one member from the group, Chris Hawkins, a concerned citizen.
Three years ago Kenton Makin with the Makin’ A Difference Show appealed to the North Augusta City Council to remove the Thomas Meriwether Monument sitting atop Georgia Avenue. Now, he and other concerned citizens Richard Bush, Chris Hawkins and Jackson Webb are reaching out to another powerful group, the South Carolina legislature.
“We thought this was a good time to do this,” Makin told us. “I have really been impressed with the community response to it thus far. The legislators’ response was disappointingly expected.”
The group of concerned citizens dropped off 170 letters to the South Carolina General Assembly. They penned a message to State Senators and State Representatives first brought to the North Augusta City Council in 2017 and later heard through the streets of the same community in the form of a march.
Read the group’s letter delivered to lawmakers.
Makin recalled, “September 2017 was when I challenged city council to not only denounce but to take it down.”
Hawkins added, “City Council seemed like they were running us in a loop, which they have been, so we decided to kind of take it a step up, which is when we went to the Attorney General. Attorney General sent us up to the General Assembly and that’s where we ended up.”
This past July, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson issued a six page opinion on whether the Heritage Act, a state law protecting monuments pertaining to wars or African Americans, applies to the Meriwether Monument. He concluded:
“The Meriwether Monument is a abhorrent testament to Jim Crow and is thus offensive. And calls it a grossly inaccurate account of the Hamburg Massacre of 1876…mourning the death of a single white man while ignoring the murders of many African Americans.”South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson
While AG Wilson directed the group to the state legislature, so far Makin said no lawmakers have responded to the letter.
“Even before we handed the letters off, there was a certain energy and certain legislative ideas that have been brought forth, such as ‘if you try to take this monument down we want to have you [politicians in respective cities and towns] charged and suspended from office.’ Different ideas like that that don’t help bipartisan discourse,” he said referring to a proposed law in South Carolina that would penalize local politicians for removing historic monument.
“I mean it’s in the heart of North Augusta, as soon as you come across that bridge. It’s not a good sign to send of unity that you’re claiming to be,” Hawkins said. “It’s an old relic from a past time that no longer exists. It needs to be torn down completely so we can start anew.”
The North Augusta City Council announced back in August that the Calhoun Park Committee proposed to add three interpretive panels to provide the historical context of the events surrounding the Hamburg Massacre. And to explain why the Meriwether Monument sits where it does. It also suggested a unity themed sculpture. The council agreed the Heritage Act does not apply to the monument and stated ownership is still being determined. If the state legislature must be involved, leaders in both the state House and state Senate said they have no plans to revisit the act this year awaiting a lawsuit before the State Supreme Court on the legality of the Heritage Act.
“It’s about forcing them to make the decision,” Makin said. “Put it on the table. Let it be a yes or no thing.”
Makin said if no decision is made soon, it will fall on North Augusta’s new city council members and new mayor.