University of South Carolina asks to change residence name
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The University of South Carolina is joining Clemson University in asking the South Carolina Legislature to change the name of a building that honors a gynecologist who conducted experiments on female slaves.
If trustees agree on Friday, the University of South Carolina will ask to remove the name of J. Marion Sims from a women’s residence hall on campus. Sims, who was white, has been honored as the father of modern gynecology, but he did experimental work on women who were slaves without anesthesia.
Passing the measure will be an uphill battle. Under the state’s Heritage Act, a law passed in 2000, a two-thirds vote is required to change the name of any building named for a historical figure or move or remove a monument.
But the act has no penalties for breaking it and some lawmakers are encouraging colleges to go ahead and make the change because the state would pay the legal bills if a lawsuit is filed.
“Have guts. Have courage and do it anyway. And encourage anybody who doesn’t like it to sue them,” said Democratic House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford from Columbia in a video posted Wednesday on Twitter.
University of South Carolina President Bob Caslen said the decision to try and remove Sims name came as part of a review committee looking at the school’s history through today’s eyes.
“We are all endowed with human frailties and are products of our time, but the actions that are such a large part of Sims’ legacy are incompatible with respect for human dignity and the values we hold dear as a campus community,” Caslen wrote asking trustees to consider the request.
Trustees will vote Friday on whether to ask the General Assembly to change the name under the Heritage Act. Lawmakers haven’t given permission to rename or move any buildings or monuments since 2015, when they agreed to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse lawn in 2015.
Clemson University trustees voted last week to ask lawmakers for permission to change the name of Tillman Hall, named after “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman, a white man who was governor and a U.S. senator. Tillman came to prominence leading a mob that attacked and killed four black men in 1876 in a successful effort to eliminate the political power African Americans gained after the Civil War ended.
Clemson trustees also agreed Friday to take the name of former U.S. Vice President John C. Calhoun off its honors college, saying that didn’t need legislative approval. Calhoun called slavery a “positive good” on the U.S. Senate floor in 1837 and was an early proponent of the belief that states could ignore any federal law, including on slavery.
Both Sims and Tillman have monuments on the Statehouse lawn that some activists either think need to be removed or at least altered to give the full story about how they treated and felt about black people.
Other Southern states and cities are reviewing or pulling down monuments, but South Carolina lawmakers haven’t allowed any changes in their state since agreeing to remove the Confederate flag from the front lawn of the Statehouse in 2015 after nine black people were killed by a white man in a racist shooting at a Charleston church.
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.