If you think I'm proud of this, you haven't been paying attention.
The argument that "monuments are history" rings hollow to me for a number of reasons that I won't go into here. Ironically, however, I'm finding that I actually am learning -- indirectly -- about the history of the state through the statues of the individuals that are honored on the State House grounds. While the monuments themselves provide nothing but names and platitudes, primary documents and scholarly historical analysis abound for those who want to understand context and meaning.
This week I learned a bit about James Marion Sims (1813-1883), the "father of modern gynecology." A monument to Sims sits at the northwest corner of the State House grounds.
"The first surgeon of the ages in ministry to women, treating alike empress and slave."
Apparently "treating alike" means "treating both" rather than "treating the same." The controversy about Sims revolves around his use of enslaved women and children as subjects for the experimental surgeries that made him famous. According to critics, he neither used anesthesia during his surgeries on black women, nor did he obtain their consent (but see this paper for a counter view). I invite you to watch this short video by Columbia resident Wendy Brinker, whom I just met online a few days ago in a discussion about removing the statue of Benjamin Tillman.
In my opinion, the core issue of the controversy about Sims -- the use of powerless women as research subjects -- can't be disentangled from the white supremacist society in which he operated. What does the Sims monument mean in that context? This is what we have to wrestle with.