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South Carolina Veterans Sue Over Segregated War Memorial

Five South Carolina veterans have sued the state over a war memorial in the town of Greenwood that segregates many of their honored dead by race.
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Five South Carolina veterans have sued the state over a war memorial in the town of Greenwood that segregates many of the honored dead by race.

The memorial includes two plaques listing almost 200 names of Greenwood County service members killed in the First and Second World Wars. The names are identified only as "white" or "colored"— not even distinguished by age, rank or military branch. (Names added later for those killed in the Korean and Vietnam wars aren't segregated by race.)

The suit, filed Tuesday in Common Pleas Court in Greenwood, challenges a state law that has kept the town of 23,000 from replacing the plaques without a two-thirds vote in the state Legislature.

Mayor Welborn Adams told NBC News in March that he'd raised $15,000 to replace the plaques with ones listing the names alphabetically, but he said his hands were tied by the 2000 law.

It's called the Heritage Act, and it was passed as part of a controversial deal to remove the Southern Cross, the Confederacy's second national flag, from the dome of the Statehouse in Columbia. Two bills that would let Greenwood replace the plaques remain bottled up in committee.

"The term 'colored' is offensive. It's offensive to me, so I can only imagine how it feels to African-Americans," Adams said at the time. "I don't think Main Street is where you should be glorifying segregation."

According to the suit, three of the five plaintiffs are members of American Legion Post 20, which created and installed the original memorial in 1929. It says the full Legion post supports replacing the plaques.

The plaques "are tragic reflections of former times and no longer legitimate," the suit says. "Retaining the segregated plaques hinders their efforts and the efforts of other people of good will to overcome the legacy of slavery and segregation and heal the wounds of the segregated past."

The Index-Journal newspaper of Greenwood reported that the City Council approved a resolution Monday night supporting replacement of the plaques. Adams told the newspaper that the plaintiffs' attorney asked for the resolution to build support for the lawsuit, which he said he supports.


— with Terry Pickard