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Officials debate letting Calhoun statue be part of exhibit

John C. Calhoun statue is lifted after crews work for 17 hours to remove it from pedestal in Charleston, SC, June 23, 2020.
Victoria Hansen
SC Public Radio
FILE - John C. Calhoun statue is lifted after crews work for 17 hours to remove it from pedestal in Charleston, SC, June 23, 2020.

A Los Angeles visual arts space wants to display a South Carolina statue of former vice president and slavery advocate John C. Calhoun as part of an art exhibit, but members of a city panel have raised concerns about the political nature of such a display.

The Charleston Commission on History on Wednesday voted to delay making a recommendation on the proposal to Charleston's city council until more information could be provided, WCSC-TV reported.

The nonprofit LAXART wants to feature the Calhoun monument at a planned 2022 exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown Los Angeles. In addition to a focus on Confederate imagery, the exhibit would "encompass the prospect of reparations, healing and a greater reckoning of America's past," LAXART Director Hamza Walker wrote in a letter to Charleston's mayor.

But commission member David McCormack had qualms with the proposal, saying, "It appears this exhibition will be a highly political, highly ideological event which is likely to continue to propagate an unnuanced view of John C. Calhoun."

"We as a commission have a responsibility to both the City of Charleston and the State of South Carolina to not allow the Calhoun statue to become a pawn in the hands of individuals and organization about which we know little and over which we have no control," McCormack added.

The city has owned the Calhoun monument since 1885, when the Ladies Calhoun Memorial Association gave it the deed.

The statue was removed from Charleston's Marion Square in June 2020 after the community objected to what the monument stood for in the aftermath of George Floyd's murder. The removal occurred five years after the slaying of nine Black parishioners in a racist attack at a downtown Charleston church.

In his letter to city officials, Walker said the exhibit would feature a group of "recently decommissioned Civil War monuments from throughout the United States" and said such statues are "physical manifestations of the Lost Cause belief."

Walker said that even though Calhoun died before the Civil War, the statue would be a valuable addition to the planned exhibition because Calhoun had "a pivotal role in the expansion and protection of slavery in the United States" and argued in favor of South Carolina seceding from the Union.

Calhoun was President James Monroe's secretary of war. He also served as vice president for John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson.

Calhoun's support of slavery never wavered. He said in several speeches on the U.S. Senate floor in the 1830s that slaves in the South were better off than free Blacks in the North while calling slavery a "positive good."