South Carolina War Memorial Separates Dead By Race, City Divided

A war memorial in Greenwood, South Carolina, is proof of a past marred by racial divide. The plaques that hang in honor of the soldiers killed in World War I and II are divided into two categories based on race: “white” and “colored.”

According to the Associated Press, Greenwood’s white Democrat mayor, Welborn Adams, wants the bronze plaques replaced. Adams says the plaques are “relics of the South’s scarred past and should be changed in the spirit of equality.” He likens the plaques to that of replacing “colored” water fountains and entrances to buildings that were once in use. He says the plaques need to be replaced because the history is offensive. Adams was questioned by the community when he said, “I think if history offends people it needs to be rewritten if possible.” However, he says he chose his words poorly and really just meant that we should right the wrongs of the past. In this case, history can come full circle by acknowledging the wrongs of the past and correcting the issue now. However, Adams attempts at replacing the plaques were met with opposition.

A state law that forbids the altering of historical monuments in any way without approval from legislators is keeping the plaques from being replaced. In fact, money is not even an issue. The memorial, which is owned by the American Legion post of Greenwood, has already raised enough money to make the necessary changes. The American Legion planned to unveil new plaques on Martin Luther King Day. However, they were told they could not alter the memorial as it is a piece of history and the law would not allow it.

“Days before the King Day ceremony, opponents threatened to try to have Adams arrested — perhaps on a misconduct in office charge — if he went forward with the new plaque. The mayor said he cried in his office when the city’s lawyer told him that opponents were right about the law.”

Eric Williams, a former historian with the U.S. Park Service, says he agrees with the law, noting that if you change the memorial it will lose its “historical integrity.”

“Segregation was the accepted social order of that time. If we alter the monument, we alter its historical integrity. Sometimes past happenings are not to our liking. Our challenge today is to recognize the great social strides our country and community have made since the nation’s early days. The Greenwood War Memorial stands on Main Street and does just that. Let’s appreciate it and keep its integrity intact with no permanent alterations.”

The Christian Science Monitor calls the idea of changing the plaque “sugar-coating history.” What do you think? Should the plaque remain divided by race to keep its historical integrity? Or should the city change the plaque to show that they no longer subscribe to that way of thinking? Let us know in the comments.

[Image Credit: AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins]