Pop Culture Junkette

Addicted to pop culture.

Monday, March 12, 2007

You Have To Love The South

Last weekend, Isaac, Jr. and I visited the Great State of South Carolina. It is a beautiful state, and Mrs. Bartender and I had visited Charleston five years ago which we loved. Well, Jr. and I went to the State House in Columbia. While the city doesn't hold a candle to Charleston, the State House is quite beautiful, and yet it has a number of touches that are just bizarre.

Most famous is the Confederate Monument. These are seen throughout the South, but the one here has the Battle Flag of the Confederacy, the flag that used to fly over the State House and led to a boycott. (In response to the controversy, there is a memorial to African-Americans also on the State House grounds.)

There are also statues of a number of "great" South Carolinians. The legendary John C. Calhoun is given a place of prominence inside the State House. Calhoun was the father of states' rights, Vice President under both Quincy Adams, and Jackson, and a fierce defender of slavery. And yet while many of his views were abhorrent, he was a fascinating and brilliant figure from the first half of the 19th century.

On the grounds of the building are numerous other figures. Former Senator, Governor, Justice, and "Assistant President" Jimmy Byrnes is understandably represented but so too is "Pitchfork" Ben Tillman, one of the most virulent racists ever to serve in the US Senate. There have certainly been many racists to serve in high office but few whose abhorrent racial views were so central to their political views as Tillman. I tried to explain this all to Isaac, Jr., but I'm not sure he fully comprehended it as he is only 10 months old.

Most interesting, however, was the statue of the one and only Strom Thurmond. Now Thurmond had his own tawdry racial history (although it pales in comparison to Tillman's), but his statue had one fascinating feature. Inscribed on the statue's base were numerous aspects of his biography including that he was a father with a list of his children. But where it originally had stated that he had four children, the four has been erased from the stone and five written in its place with the name of his mixed race daughter, Essie Mae, added to the list of children. Perhaps this more than anything symbolizes the paradox that is the South.

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