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State House Statues: A walking tour

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If you’re in downtown Columbia, one of the more pleasant places to stroll is the grounds of the SC State House. Placed throughout the grounds are various statues of figures from South Carolina History. Below is a brief walking tour of some of them, starting at the corner of Gervais and Sumter Streets with the statue of: James F Byrnes.

Byrnes is one of the outstanding figures in SC history. serving as Solicitor, Congressman, U.S. Senator, U.S. Supreme Court Justice, “Assistant President” under Franklin Roosevelt, Secretary of State under Harry Truman and, finally, as Governor of South Carolina. Situated in a shady grove, it surely is one of the coolest spots on the grounds on a summer day. Walking west toward Assembly Street, our next stop is just beyond the Confederate Monument, the statue of "Pitchfork Ben" Tillman.

Benjamin Ryan “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman (1847-1918): Tillman served as governor and U.S. senator and was the architect of “Jim Crow” segregation in the late 19th century. It was Tillman who rewrote the State Constitution institutionalizing segregation. In the early 20th century, he served in the U.S. Senate and was Chair of the Naval Affairs Committee. Walking to the opposite side of the building, we come upon the statue of Strom Thurmond.

Senator Strom Thurmond (1902-2003), perhaps one of South Carolina’s best known personalities, was the oldest person to serve in the U.S. Senate, stepping down at the ripe old age of 100. In his youth he also served as Governor. A lifelong fanatic of physical fitness, Thurmond is portrayed strolling resolutely south. The inscription on the statue had to be changed in 2003 to reflect the acknowledgement of Thurmond’s daughter, Essie Mae. A short distance east (towards Sumter Street) is the statue of Wade Hampton III.

Wade Hampton III (1818-1902), was a general in the Civil War as well as serving as Governor and U.S. Senator. He was the first post-reconstruction governor of South Carolina. After losing a power struggle with “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman, Hampton served in the U. S. Senate. Heading toward Sumter Street, our last stop will be The African-American Monument.

The African-American Monument is first of its kind in the country, and traces the history of African-Americans from the coming of slave ships to the present day. Included are several panels tracing that history as well as a depiction of a slave ship.

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Jimmy Byrnes
Jimmy Byrnes photo by author

Jimmy Byrnes

This statue of James F. "Jimmy" Byrnes is on the corner of Sumter and Gervais Streets. Byrnes, who held many offices during the 1940s and 1950s is depicted here wearing judicial robes signifying his brief service on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ben Tillman
Ben Tillman photo by author

Ben Tillman

"Pitchfork Ben" Tillman served as Governor and U.S. Senator during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was Tillman who institutionalized Jim Crow segregation in South Carolina by, among other things,  rewriting the South Carolina State Constitution.

Strom Thurmond
Strom Thurmond photo by author

Strom Thurmond

This statue of Senator Strom Thurmond honors the one of the longest-serving U.S. Senators and the only one to serve when he was 100 years old. The inscription had to be changed to reflect his family's acknowlegdgement of his daughter Essie Mae. 

Wade Hampton III
Wade Hampton III photo by author

Wade Hampton III

Wade Hampton III was a Civil War general and the first post-reconstruction Governor of South Carolina. He also served in the U.S. Senate. The office building behind him is named for him, too. 

African-American monument
African-American monument photo by author

African-American monument

The African-American monument, on the Sumter Street side of the State House, is the first of its kind in the country. It depicts the history of African-Americans from the time of slavery up to the present day.