The Potential Removal of Marion Square’s John C. Calhoun Monument

Liza examines the battle to bring down Charleston's John C. Calhoun statue.


One of the defining characteristics of downtown’s scenic Marion Square is the looming John C. Calhoun monument, erected in 1887. Though it was originally created to honor Calhoun’s achievements in states’ rights—most notably his “Theory of Nullification” in response to 1828’s Tariff of Abominations—many now believe the statue is an unjust symbol of the confederacy. Unfortunately, Calhoun is noted for claiming slavery was a “positive good” necessary to both the southern economy and African-American well being. Thus, many associate the Marion Square monument with his racist views, and subsequently want it brought down. However, we must ask ourselves: is this association strong enough to tear down a beautiful landmark statue?

This situation is very similar to 2016’s controversial battle against the confederate flag located at South Carolina’s state house. While some claimed the flag was emblematic of a discriminatory period in our nation’s history, others believed the flag was a necessary historical symbol of southern unity. However, South Carolina’s laws favored those who supported the retaining of the flag, just as they now favor those who support the retaining of the Calhoun monument. Through South Carolina’s “Heritage Act,” passed in 2000, all confederate mementos are under the state’s legal protection. Though the “Heritage Act” works to conserve our state’s history through the preservation of historical artifacts, protesters believe the act is inconsiderate of those offended by the memorials and symbols in question. A lengthy political battle, as was necessary in 2016’s confederate flag crisis, will likely be necessary to eliminate the Calhoun monument.

That being said, many activist groups such as the “Make it Right Campaign” and the “Democratic Socialists of America” still hold on-site protests against the statue. The former organization’s head claims that “The Confederacy was not just in the South. It was a mindset that went all over the country,” while the latter organization’s head claims that they are pursuing to take the monument down in a legal fashion. Both groups believe in a peaceful, politically correct removal of the Calhoun statue, yet they also hold very strong beliefs about the racist air that the statue possesses. Ultimately, however, only time will tell whether or not the protesterrs will be successful in their campaign for the monument’s eradication. Legally, it will be an excruciating task to undertake, as overcoming the “Heritage Act” is near impossible. One thing is for sure, though: the statue has forever been a hallmark of Marion Square and one of Charleston’s architectural wonders (and, you know, it’s fun to climb on.)

Nobody knows or cares who John C. Calhoun is. We just like to climb on his statue.”

— Anonymous