Full-page newspaper ad targets Tillman statue on State House grounds

Updated: Jun. 30, 2015 at 6:01 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - It has stood in front of the South Carolina State House for more than 73 years. But now there is a new effort underway to take down the statue of "Pitchfork" Ben Tillman -- former governor, former US Senator and self-avowed racist.

The statue towers over an area close to Gervais Street, placed at that spot in 1940 and surrounded by inscriptions that praise Tillman as a "patriot statesman" and a "friend of the common people."

What the monument does not point out is that Tillman was also a white supremacist, who fully supported the shootings and lynchings of black South Carolinians.

Richland Rep. Todd Rutherford introduced a bill in 2008 to do away with the Tillman statue.

"I put the bill in simply to bring attention to the fact that the Benjamin Tillman statue sits on the front of the State House grounds, that he was an avid racist, he advocated the killing of African-Americans back then," said Rutherford. "He created this thing called Tillmanism which shepherded itself into Jim Crow laws and kept African-Americans down in this state and in this country for years."

The bill died in committee.

On Tuesday, Charleston writer Will Moredock took out a full-page ad in The State newspaper in hopes of reviving opposition to the Tillman monument.

"I don't know anybody who thinks that Ben Tillman was a hero, was a worthy man who deserves a place on our State House grounds," said Moredock. "He was a murderer, he was a terrorist. It's just well documented. He made war against the civilians of South Carolina."

State NAACP President Dr. Lonnie Randolph called the statue an "embarrassment."

"It is an embarrassment not to just South Carolina, but it is an embarrassment to the country to have individuals give any type of recognition honoring him," said Randolph. "If you're going to have him out there, tell the truth about what he was. Tell that he was a bigot. Tell that he was a white supremacist."

Opponents who blocked previous attempts to remove the Tillman monument have said if that happened other memorials to historical figures with questionable racial attitudes would also come under fire.

Those who support taking down Ben Tillman say even in 2014, South Carolina still might not be ready to deal honestly with its past.

Moredock says it will take a strong grassroots reaction to prompt legislative action this year.

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