Group that owns Marion Square files lawsuit over removal of John C. Calhoun Statue

The group that owns Marion Square in downtown Charleston has filed a lawsuit against the city.
Published: Nov. 11, 2022 at 12:26 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 11, 2022 at 11:31 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The group that owns Marion Square in downtown Charleston has filed a lawsuit against the city, Charleston City Council and South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson over the removal of the John C. Calhoun statue that once stood in the square.

The lawsuit brought forward by the Board of Field Officers of the Fourth Brigade, previously known as the Washington Light Infantry and Sumter Guards Board of Officers, and filed on Nov. 4 claims the city violated the Heritage Act with the removal of the statue without the authorization of the state legislature.

The statue was removed from Marion Square in Charleston in June 2020 after a unanimous vote from the Charleston City Council, a month after George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis.

At the time, M. Richardson Hyman, Jr., a lawyer representing the Washington Light Infantry Sumter Guards Board of Officers, said the group had no basis to challenge the removal.

“The Washington Light Infantry Sumter Guards Board of Officers has no ownership interest in the Calhoun Monument, and with assurances that the Board’s ownership and interest in Marion Square will not be impacted by the City’s anticipated removal of the statue, has no legal basis to challenge the City’s actions,” Hyman said in a release.

Days after the removal, Wilson published an opinion that the Heritage Act did not apply to the monument because it was placed on private property and a provision of the Heritage Act was that monuments be in a public area.

Additionally, the first provision of the law protects “war monuments and monuments for Native Americans and African Americans.” In his 2020 opinion, Wilson said that “John C. Calhoun does not fall under any of those categories.”

“The City of Charleston has illegally and unlawfully removed the Calhoun Monument from the place where it has stood in Charleston since 1898; the base and pedestal of stone were destroyed, and the statue of Calhoun has been taken by the city,” the lawsuit states. “The City of Charleston previously threatened to illegally and unlawfully remove the Calhoun Monument from the jurisdiction of the South Carolina Courts and the South Carolina Attorney General by transferring possession of the same to a museum located in Los Angeles, California.”

A museum in Los Angeles requested the statue for an exhibit in November of 2021.

The lawsuit is also asking to prevent the city from transferring the statue to “any party outside of the jurisdiction of the State of South Carolina” and instead return the monument to its original place or another agreed-upon place within the city of Charleston.

As recently as February 2022, the city had been in talks with the South Carolina State Museum to move the statue to Columbia.

City of Charleston spokesman Jack O’Toole released the following statement in response to the filing:

“In terms of both the Heritage Act and the so-called legal trust theory, this complaint is substantially similar to the six other versions that have been filed and then quietly withdrawn by various plaintiffs over the past several months. So, the City again looks forward to seeing this lawsuit resolved in the traditional and appropriate forum – a South Carolina court of law,” O’Toole said.