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Clemson Day: Tigers Should Feel Right At Home




Clemson University head football coach Dabo Swinney and several members of his national championship football team will pay a visit to the S.C. State House this week – basking in the adulation of their most powerful fans (who also approve the school’s multi-million dollar annual budget).

Also welcoming them to Columbia?  Statues of John C. Calhoun and “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman, a pair of historical figures who are currently providing Clemson with all sorts of politically correct headaches.

“They should feel right at home amongst the State House markers and monuments,” one lobbyist said, referring to a statue of Calhoun that’s located in the upper lobby of the S.C. State House and a statue of Tillman that’s located on the complex’s north lawn.

Clemson’s linkage to these two divisive South Carolina figures continues to cause problems for the school, especially as other institutions are moving to erase their controversial legacies.

Calhoun – America’s seventh vice president – owned slaves on the plantation where Clemson’s campus currently sits.  Meanwhile the school’s most famous building – Tillman Hall – is named after “Pitchfork Ben,” an outspoken white supremacist and lynch law advocate who was indicted (but never tried) for his role in the 1876 Hamburg Massacre.

At least six black freedmen were murdered by a racist mob in that incident – while three others were shot and seriously wounded.

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Not only was Tillman (above) never prosecuted for the Hamburg Massacre, he referred to it as one of many “stirring events” in rallying support for his 1890 gubernatorial campaign.

Clemson has tried to scrub its racist history previously, albeit unsuccessfully.  Of course several of its lifetime trustees – including former S.C. Speaker of the House David Wilkins – have defended Tillman’s legacy in the past.

“Every great institution is built by imperfect craftsmen,” Wilkins said of Tillman two years ago.

Sheesh …

As much as Clemson might wish to do away with Calhoun and Tillman references, it is barred from doing so by the 2000 “Heritage Act.”

According this statute, “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.”

This threshold was attained when lawmakers voted to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the State House two years ago, but S.C. Speaker of the House Jay Lucas made it clear in the aftermath of this vote that he would abide no further historical sanitization.

That means Clemson is out of luck …

So far Clemson’s football program hasn’t suffered as a result of the bad press.  On the contrary, its coaching staff has recruited and developed talent on both sides of the football as well as any school in the nation over the last five years.

Can Swinney’s program continue to land blue chip high school recruits with a “Racist U” label hanging over its head, though?

Guess we’ll find out soon ….

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