Just a few weeks ago, CNN uncovered major concerns about the water supply in the small town of Denmark, S.C.
After a year-long investigation, CNN discovered that the state government was adding a substance known as HaloSan to one of the city’s four wells in an attempt to regulate naturally occurring iron bacteria.
According to CNN’s report, HaloSan is a chemical that’s typically used as a disinfectant for pools and spas. Many experts believe it should not be added to drinking water.
It was big news that rocked the Palmetto State.
Well, it appears that CNN has a taste for South Carolina’s controversies because two days after Thanksgiving, the national news network was back in the Palmetto State.
But this time, CNN stopped just across the Savannah River in North Augusta.
Its purpose was to interview North Augusta Mayor Bob Pettit about the controversial stone monument that has stood in the city’s J.C. Calhoun Park since 1916 honoring Thomas McKie Meriwether, a white man who died in what is known as the Hamburg Massacre.
For those who aren’t aware, the Hamburg Massacre was a violent clash that broke out in 1876 as armed white men attempted to take control of a predominantly black town with the same name.
The monument is meant to commemorate the lone white causality of the massacre, but the clash also left seven black men dead.
According to historical accounts of the massacre, an all-black regiment led by a man named Dock Adams was stationed in Hamburg, which angered a white paramilitary group known as the Red Shirts.
On July 4, 1876, hundreds of Red Shirts surrounded and eventually attacked the 84-member black militia regiment, killing seven black men.
After the massacre, Dock Adams testified before a congressional committee describing what he witnessed that terrible day.
He said that many of the black men who were killed during the massacre were executed.
“They called them out one by one and would carry them off across the railroad, and stand them up there and shoot them,” Adams testified, adding that the white men were celebrating while killing the black men. “You could hear it all the time. ‘By God! We will carry South Carolina now. About the time we kill four or five hundred men we will scare the rest.’ Even before it begun you could hear, ‘We are going to redeem South Carolina today!’ You could hear them singing it on the streets, ‘This is the beginning of the redemption of South Carolina.’”
Not a proud day in South Carolina’s history.
But, according to the monument, Meriwether was a “young hero” who gave his life “maintaining those civic and social institutions which the men and women of his race had struggled through the centuries to establish in South Carolina.”
The monument further states, “He exemplified the highest ideal of Anglo-Saxon civilization. By his death he assured to the children of his beloved land the supremacy of that ideal.”
Needless to say, the Meriwether monument in North Augusta has attracted a great deal of attention after the controversial removal of several Confederate monuments around the country last year.
But in this case, the Meriwether monument isn’t tied to the Civil War or the Confederacy, so that makes it an unusual case.
Pettit told CNN that, while he believes there is a state law (South Carolina’s Heritage Act) that prevents the city from removing the Meriwether monument, he thought North Augusta could add to the monument by recognizing the black men who also died in the clash.
“It’s an opportunity to look at something divisive for the community and hopefully make it a positive for the community,” Pettit told CNN on Nov. 24, adding that he admits the monument clearly promotes white supremacy. “I’ve had nobody dispute it to me. And we just need to take positive action to remedy that situation, in my opinion.”
Ironically, Pettit acknowledged that he, along with most North Augustans, was not even aware of the transcription on the monument.
“It had stood in the center of town for over a hundred years in a prominent location, and most people didn’t pay attention to what it said,” he told CNN. “I think a lot of people are uncomfortable because of it, knowing that’s not what we think today.”
As a result of the city’s concerns over the monument, Pettit explained that North Augusta established a committee of three whites and three blacks who spent 14 months investigating the monument’s history.
After the investigation, the mayor has recommended that additions be made the park and monument to recognize the seven black men killed in the 1876 massacre including James Cook, Allen Attaway, David Phillips, Albert Myniart, Moses Parks, Hampton Stephens and Nelder John Parker.
Pettit felt that the harsh language on the monument could be used as a “teaching tool, so that those white supremacy attitudes portrayed on the monument didn’t happen again.”
“It’s educational to know that viewpoint existed, so that it’s out in public and you can recognize that it’s not consistent with the way we’re thinking today,” Pettit told CNN, adding that he would not recommend taking the monument down. “I think that’s a one-and-done, where as this, I think, can have a positive effect for a long time. And I think in that regard we’re much better off as a city to have this educational experience that will persist.”
When it comes to controversial monuments in their towns, that’s a pretty uncommon position for many mayors across this nation.
Keeping the monument, but still trying to tell the full story of the massacre might be an impossible task for Pettit and North Augusta.