CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Descendants of former United States Vice President and known defender of slavery, John C. Calhoun, are suing the City of Charleston over his statue being removed from Marion Square in downtown Charleston last summer.
Some state lawmakers are backing the lawsuit and are threatening to withhold state funding from the city if leaders vote to send Calhoun’s statue to California.
The lawsuit claims the City of Charleston broke a trust to display and protect the statue of John C. Calhoun when it removed the statue over the summer of 2020. Now, relatives of Calhoun and others are seeking to make sure the statue remains here in South Carolina despite efforts from city leaders to lend the statue to a California museum.
The statue of John C. Calhoun stood for more than a hundred years at more than a hundred feet above the City of Charleston. Calhoun’s statue was brought down during the summer of 2020 amid a nationwide examination of historic racism in our nation’s history in the months following the death of George Floyd.
“Charleston’s dignity has been harmed and will be furthered impacted if Calhoun’s statue is displayed,” said Dale Theiling, a Committee Member of the City of Charleston Commission on History.
And while some say the statue shouldn’t be displayed in a museum, others believe it should be placed in a public setting where the full context of Calhoun’s background can be provided.
“You just can’t make him a wonderful person,” said Mickey Rosenblum, a Committee Member of the City of Charleston Commission on History.
Two descendants of Calhoun are among three plaintiffs filing a lawsuit claiming the City of Charleston has failed its responsibility to protect the statue and surrounding grounds, conditions set back in the late 1890s when the statue was erected and granted to the city.
State Representative Lin Bennett and others say they agree with the stance. “There are lots of people across the state unhappy with what has happened with this Calhoun statue,” said Rep. Bennett. “Now I know the mayor doesn’t like it, that’s fine. He doesn’t have to like it.”
With city leaders are now considering shipping the statue to be temporarily displayed in a California museum, State Rep. Bennett and others are threatening to withhold state funding from the city if the statue leaves South Carolina.
“Exactly what it is, it’s a woke crusade,” said Bennett of the statue’s removal. “You know this man is a very important part of our history.”
Rep. Bennett also said the city has lost its control over the statue since it violated the trust agreement between the city, Calhoun’s family and the Ladies’ Calhoun Monument Association. She thinks Calhoun’s family should decide what comes next for the statue.
“The family wants it back, the city has violated the trust with the family, who gave it to the city,” said Rep. Bennett. “Let the family decide.”
The future of John C. Calhoun’s statue remains up in the air, much like the statue of the former Vice President and defender of slavery stood for more than a hundred years.
“And if the mayor doesn’t want it in the City of Charleston, there are things that can be done with it privately,” said Bennett. “But he doesn’t need to be shipping it out of state or trying to destroy any more of it.”
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson is also listed as a defendant in the lawsuit. Bennett said she plans to propose a bill in 2022 to withhold funding from the City of Charleston if leaders vote to send it out of the state, saying it belongs to the residents of Charleston. State Representative Joe Bustos said he plans to support the bill.
We reached out to the City of Charleston for a response to the lawsuit, they say they don’t comment on pending litigation. The group financially supporting the lawsuit declined to provide further comment. It’s unclear if the lawsuit will impact city council’s vote on whether or not to send John C. Calhoun’s statue to California, a vote expected to happen in January.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Funding for the John C. Calhoun monument – the second version – was raised by the Ladies’ Calhoun Monument Association. It was given to be cared for by the City of Charleston. The monument (and statue) was placed in Marion Square, which is owned by the Washington Light Infantry.
During discussions over the monument’s removal, the Washington Light Infantry Sumter Guards Board of Officers stated they had no ownership interest in the Calhoun Monument and would not challenge the city in its removal.
The monument/statue was never owned nor placed in the park by the Calhoun family.