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Why does South Carolina honor a racist murderer?

By       Message Rob Groce     Permalink
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He helped organize a white supremacists' massacre of African-Americans. He incorporated laws that blocked black citizens from holding office in South Carolina for almost a century. He openly threatened to kill any black man who attempted to vote, and publicly claimed to have kept that threat. 

But a commemorative statue of Benjamin Ryan Tillman Jr., calling him "friend and leader of the common people," is still featured in Columbia, where it has stood for almost 75 years.

It shouldn't be there for another day, though, says Will Moredock, a writer and Palmetto State native who recently purchased a full-page newspaper ad calling for the memorial to be taken down.

Featuring a photo of the statue, the advertisement ran in Columbia's The State on January 14, the same day the 2014 legislation session began, reading:

"Meet Ben Tillman: Terrorist, Murderer, White Supremacist. Why is he on our State House grounds?"

The ad includes an address to Moredock's website that offers detailed records of Tillman's infamous inhumanity, and closes with suggestion, too.

"(C)all your state senator and representative and say it is time to take Tillman down."

So who, exactly, was Ben Tillman?

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A son of British descendants, he was born in the small town of Trenton in 1847. He couldn't serve in the Civil War due to an infection that cost him his left eye, but Tillman was definitely a Confederate supporter. 

In fact, shortly after the Civil War, Tillman was commander of the Edgefield County's Sweetwater Sabre Club, a militant protest group that threatened and attacked Republicans who controlled state government at the time. In 1876, he and his group helped organize the Hamburg Massacre, slaying blacks who served in the Union forces.

After gaining reputation as a white supremacist for that terrorist event, he quickly became active in politics. In 1890 Tillman was elected governor of South Carolina, serving a four-year period during which he helped rewrite the state constitution to remove African Americans from representation by government. He spent the next 24 years until his 1918 death in the U.S. Senate, where he not only formally spoke of restraining the black population, but openly admitted to torturing and murdering them, too.

So why, then, is Tillman honored with a memorial on the State House grounds? That's what Moredock wants to know. And has wanted to know for quite some time.

"I have been aware of the statue since I was a child. I was taught that he was a hero, a man to be venerated. That's why his statue was there on the Statehouse grounds. Later, of course, I learned it was a lot more complicated than that."

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"More complicated" is an understatement, though, as anyone can see by briefly examining history, or simply from the quotes Moredock includes in his ad. Tillman proudly bragged about his crimes.

Speaking from the Senate floor on February 26, 1900, he said:

"(W)e 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."

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A progressive political insider (and meddler) in the red state of South Carolina, Rob Groce operates his own blog, ROBservations (www.rob-servations.com/robs-blog.html).

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