Benjamin Ryan Tillman Monument
The monument to former South Carolina governor and U.S. Senator Benjamin Ryan Tillman sits on the opposite side of the grounds from his political adversary, Wade Hampton III. Tillman’s protégé and fellow South Carolina governor, John Gardiner Richards, Jr., began calling for a monument in 1929, reminding South Carolinians that “it was through [Tillman’s] efforts that the constitutional convention of 1895 was held and during this convention he….made Democracy forever safe in South Carolina.” The rolled piece of paper in the statue’s hand might represent this constitution, which effectively barred African American men, and later women, from voting for decades. The monument’s inscription, which praises Tillman as a “leader of the common people,” clearly meant the white farmers who formed his political base. His actions as governor—as an avowed white supremacist who called for accused black rapists to be lynched and regularly boasted of his participation in the 1876 Hamburg Massacre, where he claimed to have “shot negroes and stuffed ballot boxes”—marked the beginning of South Carolina’s Jim Crow era.
In addition to a $10,000 appropriation from the South Carolina General Assembly, Richards raised $6,000 in private donations as the chair of the Tillman Memorial Commission. The group selected Hibbard, a sculptor from Chicago, to create this one-and-one-half-times life-size statue, which was unveiled 1940. Then-U.S. Senator James F. Byrnes delivered the keynote address at the unveiling, in which he praised Tillman’s “stout heart” as “he fought on and on.” Byrnes concluded by proclaiming that “the fight he waged for the masses of the people is an abiding inspiration to all true lovers of democracy.”
Read Historic Columbia's statement on the Tillman Monument.
As mentioned in Historically Complex: The Podcast
Introducing Historically Complex, a new podcast on the complicated histories of key monuments on the South Carolina State House grounds -- now available to stream and download on our website or your favorite podcast service!