Readers of this column will remember previous OpEds about the vanished town of Hamburg, S.C., its history especially around the Reconstruction era, and its ties to Edgefield. What was once Hamburg is now within the city limits of North Augusta, adjacent to the old Fifth Street bridge; it was part of Edgefield County until Aiken County was established in March, 1871. To summarize, the Reconstruction black Hamburg militia held an armed parade marking the nation’s centennial on July 4th, 1876. The parade blocked a public road, much to the consternation of two white planters. Four days later about 20 members of the militia were besieged by a crowd of over 100 white citizens bent on disarming them, most of whom were from Edgefield County. In the resulting shoot-out, one white man was killed along with two or three black men. The remaining militia members surrendered and gave up their arms, following which four of them were singled out and shot. Several of the white participants were soon indicted for murder, but with the end of the Reconstruction government in that November’s election, none were ever tried. And 40 years later in 1916, the all-white South Carolina legislature helped to fund a memorial to the one white fatality, Thomas McKie Meriwether. The memorial, an obelisk about 12 feet tall that still stands in North Augusta at the intersection of Georgia and Carolina Avenues, lauds Mr. Meriwether as one who “exemplified the highest ideal of Anglo-Saxon civilization” and states that he died to assure “the supremacy of that ideal.”
An effort to remove or at least to change that monument is finally underway, with the North Augusta City Council last week asking the state Attorney General what permissions are needed. Their concern was that the same Heritage Act that required a 60% approval vote of both houses of the Legislature before the Confederate Battle Flag was removed from the Statehouse grounds may apply to any action regarding the McKie Meriwether Monument.
The history of the monument shows that it was constructed under the sponsorship of the state legislator whose district included North Augusta and the Meriwether section of Edgefield County, James P. Delaughter, a Democrat. His present-day successor in what is now District 83 is a Republican, Bill Hixon. Would it not be fitting if Rep. Hixon, acting as Rep. Delaughter’s successor, were to lead any needed legislative effort to grant permission to the government of the City of North Augusta to move or change the McKie Meriwether Monument as they see fit?
I would welcome comments from both Rep. Hixon and his Senate counterpart, Sen. Shane Massey, weighing in on the issue, in particular whether they consider that the local government in North Augusta should no longer have its hands tied by Columbia in their efforts to modernize the image of their city. Shouldn’t the citizens of North Augusta, and for that matter of Edgefield County, be given such prerogatives? Here is a case where local government knows more about local feelings and local history than do politicians in Columbia. It is past time that our state representatives assisted in granting localities authority to make local decisions.