Editorial: We need to know more about potential temporary home for John C. Calhoun | Editorials

Ever since Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg first proposed it in 2017, we have supported the idea of ​​using the massive statue of John C. Calhoun as a teaching tool on an important but uncomfortable part of our story – to explain how a society embraced cruelty and cruelty. racial slavery for generations, how a nation was divided over it, and what that story means to us today.

Tragically, Charleston City Council has never acted upon this common sense and common ground idea, as too few of its members have adopted the intermediate language composed by a panel of historians: Africans as “an evil”. necessary ”that can be overcome, Calhoun championed the institution of racial slavery as a“ positive good ”. The statue remains standing today as a reminder that many Southern Carolinians once considered Calhoun worthy of commemoration, even though his political positions included his support for racial slavery, an institution contrary to the ideas and core values ​​of states United of America.

Instead, the council members on the left were determined to remove the statue, while those on the right were determined not to support anything so balanced and honest.

So at first glance, there is something quite appealing about the idea of ​​loaning the city’s stored statue to a museum for inclusion in a new art exhibit on how American slavery based on the race, civil war and its aftermath reverberate in today’s world. If it cannot be used as an educational tool in the streets of Charleston, should it not play this role elsewhere?

The question regarding the request for a Los Angeles museum – especially since our elected leaders have never been able to agree on pleasant language – is exactly what Calhoun’s curators would say. In other words, in what context would the Charleston statue be displayed? That’s a question the city should have answered about any artwork a museum wants to borrow. The question of context is, moreover, a question that copyright owners regularly ask themselves before authorizing the inclusion of their photographs, texts or other elements in books and advertisements.

We don’t mean to suggest that we should veto any language that makes Mr. Calhoun look bad; his own words, in many cases, make him look bad, and our goal for years has been to make those words more accessible. But we should veto any language that doesn’t equally address the nuances of history: the important role one of South Carolina’s most important national figures played in the life of our republic, how its point view fits in with its time, how our city has seen it over time.

LAXART director Hamza Walker told the Charleston History Commission in a December 5 letter that he cannot stress enough how important the Calhoun statue would be to an exhibition planned by the nonprofit and the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, in part because it comes from the city. where the first shots of the Civil War were fired and where nine African Americans were killed in a church by a white supremacist in 2015.

As he explained: “Calhoun’s position on slavery and secession is most relevant and as such we will use his own words and place them in their proper historical context. That in itself cannot diminish his accomplishments as US Senator, Secretary of War. , secretary of state and twice vice-president. It is precisely Calhoun’s importance and importance to American history that makes his position on slavery relevant and essential to include. … We must hold both Calhoun’s position on slavery and his influence on the formation of American identity at the same time. We don’t want to erase Calhoun from our history. On the contrary. We want to take a magnifying glass to his legacy with a special focus on his views on government, the Constitution and slavery. “

He said the exhibit “will in no way bring shame to participating municipalities or institutions. In fact, we believe that the most difficult step – removing the monument – has been taken and Charleston is to be commended for responding to it. its citizens … The framing provided by a museum setting will recognize the real power inherent in Confederate monuments while removing them from their intended context, making them worthy of study rather than reverence. “

Still, Charleston lawyer and member of the History Commission, Robert Rosen, says it’s important to keep in mind that Charleston’s Calhoun statue was built and consecrated after his death to emphasize his stature. as a national figure and his contributions to the Union, not to commemorate the lost cause or to advance white supremacy. We agree and share his concern that the monument may still be deformed, even by those with the best intentions of arguing a political point of view.

The history commission is due to meet on Dec. 15 to review the loan, and Mr Rosen has asked that the meeting be delayed until the city knows more about who would write the narrative for the exhibit. It seems to us the least that the committee should demand – we would prefer to see the text itself – and a demand that no one acting in good faith would have a hard time complying with.

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