Two Fort Mill residents with opposing views on Confederate Park were heard last week during a Town Council meeting.
Resident Tracy Simpson called the downtown park an “embarrassing blemish on our beautiful town,” a public space that does not appeal to the city’s human values.
“Unlike many, I am strongly AGAINST mere signs that re-contextualize the confederate monuments in Fort Mill. Re-contextualization isn’t possible in these types of monuments, because it assumes that oppression of the African American community is a thing of the PAST,” Simpson said in remarks read to the council. “Signs pre-suppose that everyone can experience these spaces without the pain of the historical reminders that a great number of influential white people believe African Americans should consider themselves as second-class citizens. Both a hundred years ago, and clearly, by lack of respectful action, still today.” (Story continues below)
Simpson asked the council if they would be working to overturn the S.C. Heritage Act and move the monuments to a private space. She also pushed for renaming eight streets in Fort Mill, including Confederate, Calhoun, Lee, Jackson, Sidney Johnson, Morgan, Forrest, and Leonidas.
On the other side, resident J. Spratt White presented the council with a long history, and defense, of the park.
“When Captain Samuel White gave the land for the park and he and the citizens of the tiny town of Fort Mill began erecting those statues in 1891, this area had recently been completely on its knees,” he said. “Its economy had been wrecked. Much of its population had been killed, wounded, diseased or just disappeared. What was left needed to be reorganized and redirected. More than anything else, that took leadership.
“I believe the purpose of the park, and the statues, was to convey to the survivors the sense that defeat in war was not the end. The returned soldiers, the women, the former slaves and the Catawba Indians were told by these monuments that their efforts were appreciated; that they were good and worthy people and that their suffering would not be forgotten.” (Story continues below)
Captain White and others organized and built the Fort Mill Manufacturing Company, chartered in 1887, White stated.
“He and others continued to operate their farms,” he continued. “They brought the economy back. There was no Marshall Plan. There was no economic stimulus from Washington. There was only sweat, taking risks and courage.”
White said the names listed on the monuments are the names of the families who brought the economy back. Those names include White, Springs, Culp, Spratt, Sutton, Kimbrell, Epps, Patterson, Massey, Potts, Harris and others.
“These same family names appear on Fort Mill’s streets, businesses, its housing developments and throughout its history,” White said. “Now, we are told these families are but the progeny of traitors. Our citizens of today are embarrassed by these people. The fact that these past generations left our present citizens with The Greenway where the farms once operated, Elisha Park where the Fort Mill Manufacturing Company began and perhaps the state’s finest public school system mean nothing. That terrible little park – and its dreadful monuments – must go.
“Walter Elisha, a former president of Springs Industries and the man behind the seven modern bronze sculptures in Fort Mill, dedicated one of those sculptures to ‘Respect for History.’ The effort to destroy the park as an important piece of this community’s history shows how ugly the lack of such respect can get.”
After the letters were read aloud last week, Mayor Guynn Savage said the town had not made a decision on the park. She suggested they may not do anything, but they are gathering information and looking at options, alternatives and any reasons for change in the downtown park.
“This is not an easy topic because there is so many different perspectives,” the mayor said. “However, I would note openly that that park has existed for 129 years. That’s a long time.”
The mayor said the park had been here before her grandparents were even here.
“Context is critical in how we look at that particular park,” she said. “And I look forward to continued discussions on what the best thing, if anything, for us to do.”