Removed slavery backer Calhoun's statue still without a home
A statue of segregationist and former U.S. Vice President John C. Calhoun that was pulled from its perch high above Charleston almost two years ago still hasn't found a new home, though a deal to move it to a museum may be in the works even as a lawsuit challenges its removal.
Charleston leaders and officials at South Carolina's State Museum announced Monday that they have started talking about a deal bringing the statue to the Columbia museum, but details need to be hammered out and the City Council must agree to a long-term loan of the bronze figure of the staunch advocate for slavery.
Although the City Council agreed to remove the statue from its 100-foot-tall (30-meter-tall) pedestal in the aftermath of a white Minneapolis police officer killing African American George Floyd in 2020, the council didn't arrange its next home.
The Charleston Museum has already rejected the statue, saying Calhoun was not a Charleston figure and the 12-foot-tall (3-meter-tall), 6,000-pound (2,720-kilogram) statue is too big for its building.
A Los Angeles art museum proposed taking Calhoun's statue to California to create an exhibit with other Confederate and segregationist monuments removed by governments. Nonprofit group LAXART said those pieces would be joined by contemporary works so people could discuss the role race and idolizing racists from the past have on society today.
Charleston's City Council appeared to be moving toward a vote on the proposal in December but backed off after criticism and a lawsuit filed by one of Calhoun's descendants and a descendant of a member of the Ladies Calhoun Monument Association, which raised money to put up the statue in 1898.
The suit filed in January said letting the Los Angeles museum have Calhoun's statue would "denigrate and demean" him.
It also said the statue was illegally removed under a state law called the Heritage Act, which requires the Legislature to approve moving or tearing down Confederate memorials, war statues and other monuments. The city has said its was within its rights because the statue was not on public property and wasn't of a historical era covered by the law.
"The Heritage Act requires the city to restore the statue to the place where the city wrongfully took it down. Until the South Carolina Legislature specifically authorizes a move to the state museum or any other site, the city's actions are blatantly in violation of South Carolina law," attorney Lauren Martel said in statement.
The city won't say where the statue is now, citing the need for its protection.
Although news of the museum deal suggests a potential resolution to the statue's saga, it provides little clarity with the pending lawsuit and few details.
"We're still trying to figure out a safe, logistical way to get this 6,000-pound statue to us and how to temporarily store it," State Museum spokesman David Dickson said.
There are concerns about how much the museum move would cost and who will pay for it, too.
The American Heritage Association, which fights removing monuments to protect "America's national memory and the principles upon which it was founded" also is opposed to moving the statue to the State Museum.
"From a state policy perspective, this would set a dangerous precedent that the State Museum is now a repository for South Carolina's monuments," association President Brett Barry said in a statement.
If the Charleston City Council eventually approves loaning the statue to the museum, then the state agency can do whatever it wishes, Charleston spokesman Jack O'Toole said.
"As I've said from the start, I don't support erasing history, but rather, serious efforts to place complicated figures such as Mr. Calhoun in their full context. And, in this instance, I can't imagine a more appropriate institution to perform that valuable public service than the SC State Museum," Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg said in a statement.
Calhoun was a staunch defender of slavery, saying in an 1836 U.S. Senate speech that slaves in the South were better off than free Blacks in the North. Calhoun also said all societies had an elite group that deserved to do well through the work of less skilled and smart people.
Charleston's City Council voted in June 2020 to take the statue down in part as response to Floyd's killing but also to mark the fifth anniversary of the racially motivated killing of nine Black members of Emanuel AME church about a block from the square where the statue stood.
This story has corrected the weight of the statue to 6,000 pounds.