South Carolina’s senior senator added his voice to those who believe the Meriwether Monument in North Augusta should come down during a Monday press conference.
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham weighed in on the current debate in North Augusta over the Meriwether Monument in the center of town, which memorializes the one white man of eight men who were killed in the Hamburg Massacre, as well as petitions to rename public spaces currently named after Strom Thurmond.
Of the monument, Graham said: “Seems to me like it needs to come down.” He took the opposite approach on Thurmond.
Graham was in Aiken on Monday to take part in a discussion with local law enforcement, community leaders, religious leaders and elected officials. He mentioned the monument during a press conference following the meeting.
He said North Augusta Department of Public Safety Chief John Thomas mentioned the monument to him.
Graham said he doesn’t know how many times he’s been to North Augusta – “a good bit,” he said – but he has never seen the monument.
“So that’s an example of a symbol that basically, I don’t see how it fits in, I don’t see why we want to memorialize that event in 2020,” Graham said.
Later he mentioned that since the monument went up lawfully, it should be removed lawfully.
“We’re not talking about the Civil War here, we’re talking about after the Civil War, and so it just seems to me that the wording on the statue is not where you want to be.”
The monument memorializes Thomas McKie Meriwether, the one white man killed in the massacre. Seven black men were also killed in the event, some of them executed. The massacre occurred July 8, 1876, stemming from a dispute between white men and a black militia.
“I just think we need to like put it in the context of what was going on then and let’s don’t go back to those days,” Graham said.
He said he doesn’t know what the right answer is but mentioned that when the monument was erected there was “a real desire to say that this guy died in a noble way. I don’t buy that for 2020.”
A Black Lives Matter protest Saturday ended at the monument, located in Calhoun Park, which is also often referred to as John C. Calhoun Park. Protestors chanted “take it down” and called for action from the city. North Augusta City Council has officially denounced the racially divisive wording on the monument, but a 2019 resolution passed by Council states that the monument should not be relocated or altered.
Graham also discussed whether public places named after Strom Thurmond should be changed.
There are petitions to rename Strom Thurmond High School in Edgefield County as well as the Strom Thurmond Wellness and Fitness Center at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.
On that, Graham said, his “view would be no.”
Graham replaced Thurmond in the U.S. Senate and said Thurmond probably had the most effective constituent service in the history of the U.S. Senate.
“I guess what I’m saying is he changed,” Graham said of the late Thurmond, later adding that the Thurmond issue is different to him than the Meriwether Monument.