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Clemson Board Rebukes Ben Tillman’s Legacy




|| By FITSNEWS || One of the most bizarrely circular stories we’ve ever covered is Clemson University’s love affair with – and now repudiation of – the name bestowed upon its most famous building, Tillman Hall.

Two weeks ago we pointed out Clemson’s hypocrisy in calling for the Confederate flag to be removed from the State House grounds while simultaneously refusing to rename its iconic landmark, which is named for “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman.

Who’s he?  An outspoken white supremacist and lynch law advocate who was indicted – but never tried – for his role in the “Hamburg Massacre,” in which six free black men were killed by a racist mob led by Tillman.

By a unanimous vote, the school’s board of trustees has called Tillman “racist” and “repugnant.”

Interesting … two weeks ago board members were adamant they wouldn’t be changing the name of the building.

Clemson has apparently realized Tillman’s legacy is bad for business – namely the business of recruiting black college football players to campus.  And so its board of trustees (which runs via a completely unconstitutional governing structure) has changed its mind and undertaken an effort to scrub the name.

“Recent events in our state and nationally have prompted concerns about how Clemson University portrays its history and how that portrayal impacts the full breadth of the Clemson family,” the board’s statement noted.

One problem …

South Carolina lawmakers – who just went through a brutal battle to take down the Confederate flag – are in no mood to start renaming buildings or removing monuments on government property.  In fact S.C. Speaker Jay Lucas – who alienated flag supporters during the recent debate – has drawn a line in the sand on the issue, vowing that no such measures will be enacted during his tenure as Speaker.

Backing Lucas up?  The 2000 Heritage Act, which is the name of the compromise which removed the Confederate flag from the dome of the S.C. State House and moved it to the north lawn of the complex – where it flew until last Friday.

Under that act, “any monument, marker, memorial, school, or street erected or named in honor of the Confederacy or the civil rights movement located on any municipal, county, or state property shall not be removed, changed, or renamed without the enactment of a joint resolution by a two-thirds vote of the membership of each house of the General Assembly.”

Clemson’s position became further weakened when it was revealed the school’s top trustee – former S.C. Speaker David Wilkins – misled Lucas regarding the school’s intentions.

Wilkins, ironically, was one of the staunchest supporters of leaving the Tillman name.

In addition to now assailing Tillman, Clemson’s resolution creates a task force charged with investigating the school’s past and “exploring appropriate recognition of historical figures.”

Without legislative approval, though, Clemson’s statements regarding Tillman Hall are purely ceremonial.  Sound and fury, if you will. Not to mention totally undercut by the trustees’ refusal a few weeks ago to get behind a name change when the proverbial iron was hot.

What do we think of Tillman’s enduring legacy?

Eight years ago, we called for Tillman’s statue on the S.C. State House grounds to come down in light of his racist past, but in the aftermath of last week’s flag removal (a move we supported) – we’ve revisited the issue.

“If we start down such a path … where does it end? ” we wrote. “Does the definition of ‘offense’ ever stop expanding?  Or do we permit it to perpetually escalate into elevated echelons of ridiculousness?”

Finally, as we’ve said all along higher education is not a core function of government – meaning the Palmetto State’s bloated, duplicative and inefficient network of state-subsidized schools should be immediately set free to pursue its destiny in the private sector.  Were that to happen, Clemson wouldn’t have to ask permission to rename its buildings.