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'Pitchfork Ben' Tillman

this staue of "Pitchfork Ben" Tillman is on the State House grounds
photo by author

Just inside the main entrance to the South Carolina State House grounds stands the statue of Benjamin Ryan “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman (1847-1918), another interesting character from South Carolina History. Tillman enlisted in the Confederate Army when he was 17 and returned to the family farm in Trenton, SC. While in the army, Tillman became seriously ill and, as a result of that illness, lost an eye. He picked up his nickname because he allegedly wanted to “stick a pitchfork” in President Grover Cleveland and for his leadership on agricultural issues.

Tillman was a leader of the Farmers’ Alliance and was first elected Governor in 1890, his first elected office, and was instrumental in instituting “Jim Crow” segregation in South Carolina. He also considered lynching an acceptable tool of law enforcement and was also part of a Constitutional Convention that rewrote the State Constitution in 1895, a document that excluded African-Americans. Tillman was responsible for starting two colleges in South Carolina. Clemson University in Clemson, SC and Winthrop University in Rock Hill, SC both have buildings named for Tillman.

In 1895, Tillman was elected to the United States Senate and served until 1918. In 1902, he was censured by the Senate for assaulting his fellow South Carolinian, Sen. John MacLaurin, on the Senate floor. While in the Senate, Tillman chaired the Naval Affairs Committee.

There is one lasting legacy of anti-Tillmanism present today. The State , Columbia’s daily newspaper, was started as an anti-Tillman paper in the 1890s.

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