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A South Carolina hero: Lawmakers call for Robert Smalls statue at State House

Robert Smalls Monument Design

‘A South Carolina hero’: Lawmakers call for Robert Smalls statue at State House

In Columbia, South Carolina, lawmakers are pushing to expand the host of celebrated sculptures adorning the State House grounds with a new life-size figure. The proposed statue will celebrate the life and contributions of Robert Smalls, a previously enslaved man, Civil War hero, and esteemed politician.

A void in South Carolina’s history

With a diverse portfolio of monuments that tributes lawmakers, governors, soldiers, and chronicles African American history, some lawmakers believe it’s time to make room for one more commendable figure. A proposed bill seeks to erect a statue in honor of Robert Smalls, whose contribution to South Carolina’s rich history they believe has been overlooked for far too long.

“I just can’t think of anybody else, that I would go and say, ‘Hey, let’s put a statue of this person on the grounds,'” said Rep. Brandon Cox, a freshman legislator.

Remembering Robert Smalls

Born into slavery in 1839 in Beaufort, Smalls bravely sailed his crew and their families to freedom aboard a Confederate ship during the Civil War. He later served South Carolina in both the state legislature and Congress. In an effort to honor his commendable life, Cox has filed a bill with bipartisan backing to erect a monument dedicated to Smalls. The proposed bill will also create a commission to establish the stature’s design and location at the State House.

The Journey of the Bill

The push for the statue is progressing; Cox’s bill has recently ascended past a House Medical, Military, Public, and Municipal Affairs subcommittee and awaits final approval. To be signed into law, the bill still needs to gain favor in both the senate and governor’s office.

Democratic Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, the longest-standing member currently serving in the House, extends her support to the bill and emphasizes the need for public input in determining the details of the monument.

“It’s extremely important that we get monuments on the grounds that represent the full experience, especially in this climate, where there is an effort to whitewash history,” Cobb-Hunter expressed.

Discussing the Heritage Act and Financing

Historic monuments can provoke sensitivity in South Carolina due to the Heritage Act, a state law that prohibits removal or alteration of public property monuments without legislative approval. However, Cox asserts his bill would not breach this law.

“We’re not taking anything down,” Cox clarified. “This is just recognizing and memorializing an individual in our history.”

As for financing the project, Cox has planned for the Smalls monument to be entirely funded through private donations, expressing no doubts about achieving this goal. “To put Robert Smalls in the South Carolina capitol? Oh yeah, oh yeah, we’re definitely getting money for this. I’m not worried about that at all,” he added confidently.

A Monument with Distinction

If accepted, the statue of Robert Smalls would be the first on State House grounds dedicated to an individual African American. The existing African American History Monument, installed in 2001, encapsulates a more abstract render of history and doesn’t highlight particular individuals. Proponents for this monument assert that the choice was deliberate, aiming to encapsulate the collective history of African Americans.

A South Carolina hero: Lawmakers call for Robert Smalls statue at State House Spartanburg SC

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