Before hitting the “publish” button, I realized this is as much of an essay as a travel post. But if you are not interested in another opinion piece, you can just Click on photos to enlarge.
It is often said we should forgive and forget, but sometimes I wonder if we would not be better off “remembering and forgiving” or perhaps “remembering, understanding and moving on.”
We had never been in Columbia, the capital of South Carolina, so when we got into town in late afternoon, we decided to go see their capitol building.
Each of the columns on the State House was carved from a single piece of rock making them the largest such carvings on a U.S. public building.
Charleston was the first capital, but the State House was moved to Columbia in the center of the state to what was the first planned capital city in the nation.
A grand capitol building built of stone [previous wood State Houses burned] was started in the 1850s, but the civil war intervened. Union General Sherman burned much of Columbia in 1865.
The current building was constructed from 1867 to the 1880s, most of the interior work was done by 1895 and the building was declared complete in 1907.
We arrived shortly before the capitol closed, but they let us into the almost empty building. We walked up to the main lobby. A double dome overhead has glass on the inside; the exterior dome is of steel and wood finished with copper.
Guards let us walk onto the floor of the Senate and House of Representatives and into the Joint Legislative Conference Room between them. The Conference Room is the only one in its original condition.
124 Members sit in the S.C. House of Representatives. The large center desk was made in 1937 from British Honduran mahogany.
The South Carolina Senate has 46 Senators elected for four year terms. The large center desk was hand-carved in 1915.
One of two staircases in the Joint Legislative Conference Room, the only room still in its original form.
Looking up at the glass and marble interior of the wood, steel and copper dome.
A statue of John C. Calhoon is in the center of the Main Lobby. Outside, we walked around the grounds with beautiful spring flowers and ancient trees. There is the Jefferson Davis Highway marker named for the President of the Confederacy, a memorial to Civil War general Wade Hampton, a Confederate Women’s Memorial and a tree to memorialize Robert E. Lee. A prominent statue of Strom Thurmond is on one side. Thurmond retired in January 2003 at age 100 after 48 years in the U.S. Congress.
There are also many other memorials including a very interesting one tracing African American history, and ones dedicated to Revolutionary War heroes, veterans and police officers.
Stom Thurmond was a World War Two hero, a Governor, Representative, Senator and segregationist.
More spring beauty on the Capitol grounds.
This lovely huge old oak was not even listed on the map of the Capitol grounds.
On our way from Ohio to Florida, it was great to see the spring flowers at last.
This modern sculpture portrays a slave ship with the slaves packed into the lower decks.
The African American History Monument, installed in 2001, depicts 300 years of African American history in South Carolina from slaves to an astronaut.
John C. Calhoon was Vice Presidents under two Presidents, Secretary of State, Secretary of War, a U.S. Representative and a U.S. Senator.
I felt conflicted. My father was honored by the NAACP in the early 1940s long before it was chic for white persons to be involved in the civil rights movement. He raised his children to be colorblind as much as is possible for any of us. I met Strom Thurmond late in his career and knew one of his aides, an African-American man, very well. Thurmond, who did much for South Carolina and its economy, appointed Thomas Moss, an African-American who I did not know, to his Senate staff in 1971. But Thurmond, a product of his times, resisted the civil rights movement and was a leader of the effort to preserve segregation well into the 1960s. Davis, Lee and other Civil War leaders may have believed they were fighting for their states, but they were fighting for slavery. The brilliant John C. Calhoon [1782-1850] devoted much of his 40 plus years on the national stage to protecting slavery and even extending it to new states.
It felt wrong to have memorials honoring these people. But today’s “cancel culture,” which would even pull down the statues of Jefferson, Washington and Grant, is wrong too. We can honor virtue and condemn faults, but we cannot change history. It is worse that they would “cancel” anyone who disagrees with their dogmatism.
“Forgive and forget” is important on a personal level because resentment corrodes our own psyches. But it is not our role to forgive historical figures, and we lose something as a country if we don’t remember them.
It is wrong to honor them as though they had no faults. But we need to remember them because they were important to history, even if as bad examples. We need to understand them, the times and societies they lived in, their strengths, and their weaknesses. Then we need to move on, live our own lives and address our own weaknesses.
Date of our visit: 8 Mar 21