In order to get the Meriwether Monument removed, it will have to be taken up with the General Assembly, according to an opinion from the state Attorney General’s office.
The office released its opinion on the Meriwether Monument on Tuesday, calling the monument “an abhorrent testament to Jim Crow” and “a grossly inaccurate account of the Hamburg Massacre.”
The office recounts that the monument was erected by a Joint Resolution of the General Assembly and that North Augusta must seek relief from the General Assembly to “repeal or modify the laws erecting” the monument.
The city sought an opinion from the office regarding the applicability of the monument to the state’s Heritage Act. North Augusta Mayor Bob Pettit said Tuesday that City Council has not had discussions to determine the next steps to take regarding the monument.
The office states in the opinion it has no authority to determine whether the Heritage Act is applicable in this case.
“We cannot imagine the General Assembly intended to protect such a racist symbol when it enacted the Heritage Act,” the opinion says, adding the Attorney General cannot serve as judge and jury as to the applicability of the act to the hundreds of monuments and memorials in the state.
Brandy Mitchell is an organizer with Unify: North Augusta, which has been calling for the removal of the monument for months.
Mitchell mentioned a lawsuit against the state regarding the Heritage Act by Jennifer Pinckney, the wife of the late Rev. Clementa Pinckney who was killed in the 2015 Emanuel AME shooting in Charleston.
A post to Unify: North Augusta’s Facebook page states Mitchell has been in contact with the lawyer and plaintiffs in the case.
“I stand with Mrs. Pinckney on this issue,” she said.
The Meriwether Monument memorializes Thomas McKie Meriwether, the one white man who died in the July 1876 Hamburg Massacre. Eight black men also died during the massacre, and their names are not included anywhere in Calhoun Park.
The opinion from the Attorney General’s office says the massacre “became a key catalyst and rallying point for a resurgence of white supremacy in South Carolina that opposed Reconstruction and ultimately succeeded in a political takeover.”
The opinion discusses the Heritage Act’s language that no street, bridge, structure, park, preserve, resource or other public area of the state or any political subdivisions named for a public figure or event may be renamed or rededicated.
“We are not aware of any public accomplishments of Thomas Meriwether or any notable distinctions of the kind that are generally considered historically significant, apart from having been killed while participating in the massacre,” the opinion states.
The opinion does say that, without question, the Hamburg Massacre is a historic event.
The inscription on the monument is much of the cause of ire related to the monument. It refers to the "supremacy" of the "highest ideal of Anglo-Saxon civilization," for example.
"We cannot imagine that the General Assembly intended the Heritage Act to protect such obviously hateful testament to the racial practices of the past as this Monument is," the opinion says.
Mitchell said she implores Council to look at the opinion and consider what the state is saying.
“If the state is saying that this monument is not a reflection of who we are as South Carolinians today, then we don’t need to be putting anything around it, we don’t need to be putting any markers or anything next to it, this marker needs to come down,” she said.