Benjamin Ryan Tillman: Why is there even any question about what to do with his statue?

Monday, January 28, 2008

If you don't know who Benjamin Ryan Tillman is here's a quick recap:

He was Governor of South Carolina from 1890-1894, and then served as a U.S. Senator from 1895 until his death in 1918 (belonging to the Democratic Party). A son of slave owners, one of his main goals was to disenfranchise the black population in the state and use them as a scapegoat for the state's economic woes, appealing specifically to the farming population (taking over the South Carolina Farmers Alliance).

Here are a couple of quotes from Tillman:

"We have done our level best [to prevent blacks from voting]...we have scratched our heads to find out how we could eliminate the last one of them. We stuffed ballot boxes. We shot them. We are not ashamed of it."

"We of the South have never recognized the right of the Negro to govern white men and never will."
J. Todd Rutherford, a member of the South Carolina House has a brought a bill to local legislators to have his statue removed, while Joe Neal, another state representative will be introducing legislation to add a plaque to Tillman's statue which is more apropos of his racist ideals when alive versus his current inscription, allowing him to be known as "a friend and leader of the common people" who "taught them their political power and made possible the education of their sons and daughters."

To me there's no question here about what should be done - Tillman was a racist and bigot who openly lauded the killings of America's black population and doesn't deserve to have his likeness in bronze on the State House lawn.

While I understand wanting to preserve history and heritage, and Southern history and heritage - because it is steeped in tradition, and there are Southerners who have helped make great strides - Tillman isn't one of them - and until his statue is taken down (along with others of his ilk), the cloud of racism and bigotry will still hang above, much like the ghosts from the South's past.