By JEFFREY COLLINS
COLUMBIA, S.C. – A group of artists said it left black nylon stockings resembling human figures hanging from trees outside a South Carolina university hall to protest that the building is named for a post-Civil War-era racist.
The 18 stockings filled with dirt were found Sunday morning outside Tillman Hall, with a sign reading “Tillman’s Legacy” taped over the plaque with the building’s name, according to a police report from Winthrop University in Rock Hill.
A group called the Association of Artists for Change said each stocking represented a lynching victim when “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman was governor from 1890 to 1894 and was intentionally placed after Donald Trump won the presidential election last week because of the climate of racial distrust he has created, according to a statement posted on Twitter.
“One should question, why this artwork is offensive and not the building itself?” the group said.
University officials acknowledged the statement and said the artwork was painful and a threat no matter what its intention.
“These images are clearly hurtful and threatening and are contrary to the values of Winthrop University,” president Dan Mahony said in an email sent to faculty and students.
The stockings appeared to be placed overnight because they were wet from the morning rain, and there was no security camera footage of the incident, according to the police report.
Mahony promised a full investigation and said those responsible will be held accountable by the university judicial system and state law.
Tillman Hall at Winthrop was vandalized at least twice in 2015, with graffiti on the building and paint thrown on a portrait of Tillman inside.
Tillman was a South Carolina governor and a U.S. senator. He helped lead a mob that killed four blacks in July 1876 as racist whites pushed to regain control of state government during Reconstruction.
He said blacks were cannibals, barbarians and savages in Africa and it was foolish to think they would be any different in the United States.
A major building at Clemson University is also named for Tillman, who was instrumental in the founding of the two schools. Both schools have issued statements uncomfortable with Tillman’s legacy, but point out they need a two-thirds vote from the Legislature to change the name – a law put in place to protect the Confederate flag on the State- house lawn.
The group of artists said Winthrop could go ahead and place a plaque outside the hall detailing Tillman’s violence and racism.
“The sign could remember the 18 people lynched during Tillman’s administration and address that Tillman’s name wasn’t put on the hall until 1962 in a campaign of fear,” said Samantha Valdez, a Winthrop student and spokeswoman for the artists.
A Tillman statue still stands prominently nearby where the Confederate flag flew on Statehouse grounds from 2000 to 2015. South Carolina House Speaker Jay Lucas has said his chamber won’t take up any more monument or naming questions.
The stockings at Tillman Hall were found a day after a fire at the Beaufort County Black Chamber of Commerce. State and federal investigators are still trying to determine what caused the fire. Before the building broke ground, someone spray painted “Racist” in red letters on its sign in July 2015, the same month the Confederate flag was removed from the Statehouse.