home Who Was Benjamin Tillman?

Update: Rep. Rose Calls for removal of Tillman statue

Legislative Fix to the Tillman Problem

Southerners Aren't Happy with Segregationist Statues

While no polling exists on the question of what to do with the Tillman Statue specifically, there was a poll done by Winthrop University in 2018 that asked Southerners, “Which of the following comes closest to your opinion about what to do with statues honoring leaders and politicians who supported racial segregation?” The results were that 39% of Southerners favored removing these kinds of statues, 26% favored adding information for context and historical interpretation, while only 30% wanted to leave these statues alone.1 In other words, 65% of Southerners aren't happy with leaving statues of segregationists alone. They want to, at the very least, modify these statue's plaques with the missing history.

Now consider that the poll asked about generic segregationists. Benjamin Tillman’s crimes make the injustices of segregationists like Strom Thurmond pale in comparison. It's safe to assume that if South Carolinians were familiar with Benjamin Tillman, well over 65% of them would approve of at least updating his statue’s plaque.

Rumblings in the House

The #SCHouse will not engage in or debate the specifics of monuments, memorials, state buildings, etc. via @thestate http://t.co/hIY6gFLOYs

— Jay Lucas (@schousespeaker) July 16, 2015

The current push to have the statue removed is not the first. In 2008, Rep. Todd Rutherford of Richland County offered a joint resolution to have the Tillman statue taken down. However, it never made it out of committee. Subsequently, in 2015, the house speaker, Jay Lucas representing Darlington, said The S.C. House “will not engage in or debate the specifics of public monuments, memorials, state buildings, road names or any other historical markers.” Lucas further said, “Debate over this issue will not be expanded or entertained throughout the remainder of my time as speaker.”

On December 9, 2020 Representative Seth Rose prefiled bill H3135 for the upcoming legislative session. The proposed legislation would "establish The Monument Review Study Committee to study the potentially offensive monuments on the state house grounds and to determine in what way the monuments may be removed or altered to be historically accurate."

Rep. Nathan Ballentine, a Republican, has indicated he would support removing the Tillman statue if it came to a vote.

It remains to be seen if the effort behind H3135 will be successfull.

88 Yeas

It would not take much to overturn this complacency. To legally remove or alter the Tillman Statue only 88 SC lawmakers need to agree that a murderous terrorist should not be honored without caveat on statehouse grounds. That’s a majority of the Senate (24), a majority of the House (63) and the Governor (1).

The Heritage Act Does Not Protect the Tillman Statue

There exists a common misconception2 that the Heritage Act applies to the Tillman statue and therefore a two-thirds vote would be required to remove or alter it. However, the Heritage Act explicitly only applies to monuments to specified wars, specified ethnic groups, and public areas such as roads and buildings.3 Tillman’s monument is none of these things.

Rep. Seth Rose, an attorney, has further confirmed the statue is not protected.

“I do not believe the Heritage Act covers this, but I do think those that would like to defend having “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman would like to hide behind that,” Rose said. “Ben Tillman does not fit under the Heritage Act based on his credentials.”4

Rep. Seth Rose

Contact Your SC Senator and Representative

Enter your address here to find out who is representing you in the state house. Once you learn who your South Carolina State Senator and South Carolina State Representative are, contact them to find out if they are willing to support bill H3135.


Notes

  1. Winthrop Poll Southern Focus Survey, p. 6
  2. Even the article referenced in the tweet above has this error.
  3. The relevant text of the Heritage Act is: "No Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican War, War Between the States, Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War, Native American, or African-American History monuments or memorials erected on public property of the State or any of its political subdivisions may be relocated, removed, disturbed, or altered. No street, bridge, structure, park, preserve, reserve, or other public area of the State or any of its political subdivisions dedicated in memory of or named for any historic figure or historic event may be renamed or rededicated...", SC Code of Laws § 10-1-165
  4. The State, After week of protests, Columbia lawmaker says Ben Tillman statue should be removed

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