Altered WWI monument takes center stage at forum
GREEENWOOD, S.C. (AP) — Despite years of legal wrangling, the question of jail time and even anonymous “Unabomber letters” sent in the aftermath, three of the men behind a Heritage Act-defying plan to desegregate an Uptown Greenwood war memorial still can find nothing to regret.
“We’re just standing up for those who lost their lives in an honorable way, so when you look at that monument, you remember it’s just about a person who sacrificed their life, so we can be here talking about it today,” said Dale Kittles, a member of the American Legion Post 20 executive committee and among a group of five who sued the state in bid to list the city’s fallen World War I soldiers alphabetically instead of by race.
The dispute, which garnered national attention, marked the first successful challenge to South Carolina’s Heritage Act, a law adopted in 2000 that makes it illegal to alter or change any monument on public property without a two-thirds vote by the General Assembly.
Defendants, including state House Speaker Jay Lucas and Attorney General Alan Wilson, don’t consider Greenwood’s situation as an affront to the act, since the plaques were actually switched out by local contractor Trey Ward.
Since he was considered a “non-party” to the case, his actions derailed the litigation, and it was rendered “moot” in late November.
Five months earlier, Ward volunteered his services as a “private company” and for $1 swapped out the nameplates, which were created using $20,000 worth of contributions in a quiet fundraiser spearheaded by former Mayor Welborn Adams.
Kittles, Ward and former Adams took part in an evening panel discussion at Lander University about the role World War I played in the Upstate — and continues to today.
“It looked terrible for us on a national platform,” Adams said of the monument.
Erected on Armistice Day in 1929, the memorial had nameplates added over time, with those killed during the 18 months the U.S. fought, from 1917 to 1918, being recognized first in 1931.
It wasn’t until 1948, following the end of World War II, that the plaques noting mortalities from both conflicts were memorialized.
Christopher Thomas, director of the Benjamin E. Mays Historical Preservation Site, said black sentiment toward the segregated monument was obvious for many.
“To African Americans, we see the reality that these statutes were a response to every effort they were making to gain civil rights in society,” Thomas said. “They’re responding to trying to re-establish white supremacy here in the South, but oftentimes our voices were silent, so the African-American here was always offended by a segregated statute or monument.”
Kittles said modernizing the Uptown memorial was widely supported by the Legion, but members were also insistent the original ones be displayed prominently. Officials are developing a display for them at the Veterans Center along Main Street.
“The post is not for demolishing any monuments, anywhere,” he said. But “veterans are very vocal, especially it when it comes to other veterans, dead or alive.”
Ward said he’s gotten anonymous letters rebuking his actions.
“I got a couple of Unabomber letters in the mail that were anonymous and I’ve also had some people just confront me and say, ‘What’s the big idea, you’re trying to erase history’ and I said, ‘I’m not a witch, I can’t go back in time and erase history,’” he said.
Information from: The Index-Journal, http://www.indexjournal.com