NORTH AUGUSTA, SC (WJBF) – During protesting of racial injustices nation-wide and in the CSRA over the weekend, two unlikely people discovered while they look different from one another, they share a common past and have similar hopes for the future too.
A North Augusta monument erected in 1916 to honor is a reminder of the horrors of the not so distant past for some. But in the midst of the outcry for racial justice comes a story of family that simply cannot be ignored.
“As people who grew up in the south, you don’t have to go very far back to find people with racist values and white supremacists and slave owners,” said Bittany Meriwether Williamson a week ago.
The descendant of Thomas McKie Meriwether, the lone white man killed and later honored in Calhoun Park following the 1876 Hamburg Massacre race riot, spoke with us again after a new twist emerged in her story from a week ago.
What she didn’t realize while coming forward to condemn the Meriwether Monument and the words etched on it was that Meriwether also has African American descendants.
She said, “He told me that he was a descendant of the slaves that the Meriwethers owned. We decided that we would like to unite our voices to try to get this monument taken down.”
Armed with help from her new found cousin Rodney Cainston Young, both have a new mission.
“There are two churches shadowing this monument that teaches the love of Jesus and that all men are created equal,” reminded Young.
Both he and Brittany share a common ancestor, a white man name Nicholas Meriwether born in the 1600s. In that lineage is Thomas McKie Meriwether’s uncle, Snowden Meriwether. He fathered children with a slave. From that union came the African American descendants, Snow Meriwether and five generations later, Rodney. When he told his new cousin they met at Saturday’s march.
“Just a loving family,” he said of the meeting at Hammond’s Ferry Saturday. “They took to me and I took to them. The kids, the oldest one he just came and sat right next to me and started talking and that’s what it’s all about.”
Now that they are united, the work for them continues to get the monument once dedicated to their Meriwether ancestor taken down.
We reached out to several council members to get their thoughts.
Councilman Fletcher Dickert shared a written response. He said the following:
“I commend and thank UnifyNA for a peaceful protest. I’m still listening and working to understand before commenting on a direction. Additionally, I think its premature to comment on a direction prior to receiving the formal report from the committee that City Council charged with studying and making a recommendation on what to do about the monument. But I will say that we must do something. My goal isn’t to just right a wrong but rather to bring greater understanding and to shrink the divide within our community and nation as a whole. The city has acknowledged the issue and has been working towards a solution for a while now and not just because of recent protests; however, the recent protests underscore the need for this to come to a quicker resolution.”
For additional information:
- The city has again requested the Attorney General’s office to provide an official opinion as to whether the monument is covered by the Heritage Act. Previously they would not comment as the Heritage Act was being challenged but that case has been resolved so I’m told.
- The city passed a resolution condemning the wording of the monument a couple years ago following the mayor’s report on the monument. This resolution also formed a committee made up of a diverse group of people to study and make a formal recommendation as to how best to address the monument. They have been working for over a year on a solution. The committee presented their draft report back in February to leaders in the African American community for their input prior to making a formal recommendation. It is my understanding that those leaders asked for some changes. The committee’s next meeting to take up the comments and to make adjustments was cancelled due to COVID19 and because of that haven’t met since February. It is my understanding that the committee is getting back together in July to address the comments received in February and revise their recommendation. I hope that a formal report and recommendation will be presented to council within the next few months so that further public discussions can be had.
Councilman Kevin Toole shared his thoughts via social media adding, “The inscription on the monument is awful, divisive, and is an affront to a large segment of our community.”
We spoke with North Augusta City Coucilwoman Pat Carpenter too. She said, “If I had my way right now, I would love to see the monument gone. If it cannot be taken down, I’ve suggested this to the mayor, that we take the writing off the monument and come up with some type of entity that we love our community.”
Carpenter said the Heritage Act may be the only thing that keeps the monument up, but Mayor Bob Pettit said the City Attorney reached out to the South Carolina Attorney General to see if it actually does. He said he expects the monument committee to meet July 14 to discuss bringing a recommendation to the city council in August. Carpenter told us conversations may change a little bit from the prior decision not to remove the monument, a decision that Mayor Pettit said made the city’s initial letter to the Attorney General null and void.
Until then, Rodney and Brittany look forward to having a family reunion one day and using their story to foster more love in North Augusta.
“We want equality for everyone, for all people,” Meriwether Williamson said.
NewsChannel 6 will continue to follow the outcome of the Meriwether Monument.