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Charleston County Council and honoring George Washington

Charleston Mercury Editorial Board

As readers may have heard, on March 2 Councilman Larry Kobrovsky was unable to get a fellow member of Charleston County Council to second his proclamation that sought to honor George Washington. In short, a noble gesture quickly became a hot mess. Councilman Kobrovsky’s original proclamation did not include a reference to slavery, but the staff included one and Councilman Kylon Middleton took objection to that language, which never should have been there in the first place. After this objection, the matter of slavery became the point of debate among members of council. As earlier noted, no member would second the motion, which Councilman Kobrovsky amended to remove the offending reference to slavery. Those who wish to see the deliberations may do so at the 34-minute mark here:

As we can see from the discussion, Charleston County Council — other than Councilman Kobrovsky — became bogged down in political sensitivities. Members of council are well within their rights to object for any reason they see fit, but it is better to be bigger than the ugly political swamp beyond our state and rediscover our first president for his extraordinary leadership and example to others. It is essential to understand Washington’s singular role in leading his army against the British and then standing tall at the Constitutional Convention and setting the tone for the discussions that formed a republic, not a government of kings or aristocrats. Our nation’s First Father cared not for political divisions; instead, he embraced unity based upon what was good for the whole. Furthermore, he used his personal prestige — not to bask in personal glory in rarefied air — but to cajole others to complete their duties, especially when he presided over the Constitutional Convention. It is worth noting that President’s Day is a legal misnomer and actually a media and retail creation; the federal government by statute names a holiday for the third Monday of February as George Washington’s birthday.

The political reality is that it is always worth honoring George Washington, and we should give citizens an opportunity to let themselves be heard on this point, so we urge you to put your fingers to the keyboard. (Please see emails nearby.) Chairman Sass can pull support together, but he needs to know how important this issue is to the citizens of Charleston County. We are about to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution, and we are all aware that many of those heroes were also slaveowners, which does not mean we should cancel our celebrations. Instead, let us learn from history by discussing all elements of our story.

Our council was wise to embrace our Founding Father back in 1999 when it was the single largest contributor, appropriating $40,000 for the statue of George Washington that was erected that same year in Washington Square behind City Hall. The city of Charleston contributed $25,000; local government, many heritage groups and private citizens together raised roughly $200,000 for this statue by John Michel. The statue stands atop the pedestal that once held the marble likeness of William Pitt that is now inside the circuit court annex’s space right off Courthouse Square. A brief biography of Washington and the names of the supporters are on plaques under the statue that graces the square named in honor of our first president.

Charleston welcomed President Washington for a week of celebrations from May 2-May 9, 1791. The president wanted especially to visit with his Society of the Cincinnati brothers, his fellow veterans of the Revolution; as fighting men, they had seen their friends, family and children killed, farms burned and their fortunes flounder. They all knew true sacrifice and put everything on the line for the idea of forming a new country, and they succeeded against all odds. These flawed men — as all of us are — set in motion the birth of a country that has created a system through which citizens have been able to redeem the ideals of equality for all through the Civil Rights laws passed more than five decades ago. Without the noble leadership of George Washington, the current freedoms all citizens enjoy would not be possible. The ironies of history are profound and filled with nuances worth studying and communicating to our fellow citizens. Charleston County has a history of doing what is right to honor George Washington, and we trust it will continue to do so.


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