Painting of Racist Figure Vandalized at Winthrop U

July 6, 2015

On Thursday morning, someone used red paint to write "violent racist" on a painting at Winthrop University of Benjamin Tillman, who in the 19th century was a powerful South Carolina politician and a participant and supporter in violent attacks on black people. Tillman also helped secure state funds for Winthrop and is honored in the name of the main administration building, Tillman Hall (below right), where his portrait appears. Police are investigating the vandalism and the university has already been considering whether it should keep the Tillman name.

"Ben Tillman was inarguably a racist, however, that fact does not justify vandalism," said an email sent to the campus by Daniel F. Mahony, the president. "I am disturbed by this incident because someone acted in a manner that is contrary to the spirit of community at Winthrop. I believe the best way to move forward will come from the campus community working together in a way that is respectful and peaceful."

Debra Boyd, provost and former acting president of Winthrop University, is leading a review of the name Tillman Hall. In a recent statement prior to the vandalism, she said: “Regarding Tillman Hall, we will move forward thoughtfully and with respect for all voices -- Winthrop’s great strength is its tradition of appreciating the array of opinions speaking on important matters facing the university …. We are committed to Winthrop University’s being known for taking command of a dark chapter in our past and denying it the power to divide us.”

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