Postcard of the State House grounds, 1920. Historic Columbia collection
By: Lydia Mattice Brandt, Associate Professor, University of South Carolina
The South Carolina State House grounds feature dozens of monuments built over more than two centuries.
Here are 10 key facts to help you learn about this site:
1. The South Carolina State House grounds began with the construction of the first State House in 1786. This building burned during the Civil War in February 1865. A tombstone commemorates it, although it does not sit on exactly the same place as the building did.
2. The first monument on the grounds was a tombstone for the only person buried on the site, Swanson Lunsford, who died in 1799. He was likely buried here because people feared the spread of the yellow fever that had killed him.
3. Construction of the current State House began in 1856 and remained incomplete when a fire destroyed much of downtown Columbia in 1865. The first legislature to occupy the building was the only majority-Black state legislature in the history of the United States. The African American History Monument (dedicated in 2001) is the only marker of this achievement on the grounds.
The Reconstruction panel on the African American History Monument, sculpted by Ed Dwight.
Image courtesy Historic Columbia
4. Once they ended Reconstruction with the violent and fraudulent election of 1876, white South Carolinians decorated the grounds with monuments that commemorated both the Confederacy’s efforts in the Civil War and the return to white political power after the end of Reconstruction. The statue of Wade Hampton, for example, depicts his head as he looked as governor in 1877, while his body, horse, and plaques naming Civil War battles recall his service as a Confederate general in the early 1860s.
5. Although South Carolina sent fewer than 1,000 soldiers to the Spanish-American War in 1898, this conflict’s memorialization is second only to that of the Civil War on the State House grounds. The three monuments on the site—a gun, a cannon base, and a statue—celebrate the fact that this was the first international war in which white southerners and northerners had fought alongside one another since before the Civil War.
6. The figure of the Spanish-American soldier (installed 1941), called “The Hiker,” is the only monument on the grounds designed by a female artist. Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson was the first woman elected to the National Sculpture Society.
7. South Carolina’s most nationally prominent politician of the twentieth century, James F. “Jimmy” Byrnes, spoke at the dedication of the monument to his mentor, Benjamin Ryan Tillman, in 1940. Tillman was a white supremacist governor and U.S. senator who encouraged Jim Crow laws and a new constitution (ratified in 1895) to ensure that Black South Carolinians could not vote. Byrnes, an ardent segregationist, received his own statue on the grounds in 1972.
8. A plan enacted in the 1970s included new buildings and the closure of the intersection of Main and Senate streets, which doubled the grounds in size. Most of the site’s existing monuments were moved to compliment the symmetrical arrangement of the new buildings and the design of new paths. This was the second, third, or even fourth time that some of the monuments had moved.
The legislature moved the Palmetto Regiment Monument three times in the 1870s (here it is just west of the State House steps), then to its current location in 1972. Historic Columbia collection, HCF2007.6.31
9. As part of the compromise to remove the Confederate flag from the top of the State House dome in 2000, the legislature passed “The Heritage Act,” which specifies that a 2/3 majority vote of the South Carolina General Assembly is required for the relocation, removal, disturbance, or alteration of any monument on the State House grounds. The Confederate flag flew on a new pole behind the Confederate Monument until the legislature voted to remove it following the massacre of nine African Americans at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston in 2015.
10 . The last three monuments are also the site’s largest: the African American History Monument (dedicated 2001), the South Carolina Armed Forces Monument (2005), and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Memorial (dedicated 2006). The state legislature required that the African American History Monument be funded entirely with private donations, while it made appropriations of public money for the other two. Following the dedication of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Memorial, the General Assembly passed a law prohibiting additional monuments on the grounds without a majority vote of the legislature.