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South Carolina

Georgia city to strip slavery advocate’s name from plaza

Leaders of Georgia’s oldest city voted Thursday to take away the name of a former US Vice President and vocal pro-slavery advocate from the general public sq. named in his honor greater than 170 years in the past.

Planned in 1851, Calhoun Square was named for John C. Calhoun, a outstanding politician from neighboring South Carolina who spent many years in Washington earlier than his dying in 1850, serving in Congress and as a vice chairman beneath Presidents John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson.

Calhoun additionally overtly pro-slavery within the many years main up to the Civil War. That has made him a goal of racial justice advocates in Savannah and elsewhere in recent times, who search to take away statues and different tributes to the Confederacy and white supremacists from public areas.

The Savannah City Council voted unanimously to take away Calhoun’s name from the seat throughout a Thursday afternoon session. The mayor mentioned it may very well be a yr earlier than city officers resolve on a brand new name.

“John Calhoun had an outstanding profession as an American statesman. He’s a legend on that facet,” said Savannah Mayor Van Johnson, who nevertheless said he supported the removal of Calhoun’s name because his views on race “don’t replicate Savannah in 2022.”

“I feel Mr. Calhoun’s views actually propagated, supported, and promoted slavery,” said Johnson, who is black like 54 percent of Savannah’s population.

Calhoun Square was one of the last of two dozen public squares constructed between 1733 and 1851 in downtown Savannah’s historic district. With towering oaks and flowering azaleas framing benches at its center, the square is surrounded by Greek-style houses and two city landmarks – Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church, dedicated in 1890, and the Massie Common School House of 1855, one of the oldest public school buildings in Georgia.

One block north is Clary’s Cafe, the diner featured in John Berendt’s 1994 bestseller, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Before Savannah acted, Calhoun had been stripped of his honors in his home state of South Carolina. City officials in Charleston dismantled a statue of Calhoun in one of its plazas in 2020, and Clemson University removed his name from its honors college that same year.

In the early 1800s, Calhoun became known as “The Cast-Iron Man” for his unyielding support for Southern rights. He called slavery a “optimistic good” and, in speeches in the US Senate in the 1830s, said that slaves in the South were better off than free blacks in the North. He led the South toward secession with his pro-slavery “Calhoun Doctrine” before dying in 1850.

Some in Savannah refused to remove Calhoun’s name from where it had long been printed in bold white letters on signs as well as on a metal plaque embedded in a brick sidewalk.

Calhoun earned the honor through his four decades of service in Washington, said Andy Calhoun, a Savannah Native who says he is a descendant of John C. Calhoun’s brother. In addition to serving in both houses of Congress and as a vice president under two presidents, John C. Calhoun has also served as US Secretary of War and Secretary of State.

“It’s apparent why the city of Savannah honored his statesmanship,” said Calhoun, 69. “He was not honored for his views on home slavery.”

He added, “I simply do not perceive why persons are so anxious to revise historical past.”

Savannah tour guide Patt Gunn, one of the leading proponents of renaming Calhoun Square, welcomed the council’s decision on a day when Tropical Storm Nicole brought gusty winds and occasional heavy rain to the Georgia coast.

“I feel it must be a cleaning day due to the rain,” said Gunn, a Savannah Native and slave descendant. “And with Calhoun eliminated, it will likely be a part of a therapeutic course of.”

Gunn has spent the last two years leading a group of lawyers calling for a new name for Calhoun Square.

A major hurdle for the group was a city ordinance that required a majority of property owners on the plaza to agree to a name change. Gunn said her coalition got the required signatures three times just to see homes being sold by supporters to new owners. Thus, her petition to change her name was denied before city officials could act.

Johnson and city council allies agreed on a workaround. Her vote Thursday was solely to remove Calhoun’s name from the seat. The mayor said he plans to later give property owners and other residents a chance to help decide on a new name for the square.

“If it takes a yr, I’m not mad,” Johnson said in an interview.

The mayor has asked the Savannah city manager to immediately remove any signage on the plaza that bears Calhoun’s name. Until it gets a new name, he said it should be called “the sq. previously often known as Calhoun Square.”

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