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Honored by Statue, Democratic South Carolina Senator Said Some Blacks “Near Akin to Monkey”

statue of Benjamin Tillman
Photo: Statue of Benjamin Tillman, Columbia, South Carolina, by Billy Hathorn / CC BY-SA (

Editor’s note: Recently, Scientific American viciously smeared all critics of Darwinian theory with an article titled, “Denial of Evolution Is a Form of White Supremacy,” by Allison Hopper. As promised, we are presenting some of our extensive past coverage of the tight links between racism and evolution. This article was originally published on July 10, 2020.

As I’ve written previously, I generally don’t favor removing old statues of historical figures. I’d prefer using the statues as an occasion for learning lessons about the past, including uncomfortable parts of the past.  

However, if a person is despicable enough, I would make an exception. For me, Benjamin Tillman is one of the exceptions. From 1895-1918, Tillman served as a Democratic United States Senator from South Carolina. South Carolina still honors Tillman with a statue in its state capital

Tillman was a monster. He publicly defended lynchings. He drew on evolutionary racism to preach black inferiority. And he worked to subvert representative democracy.

Intimidation, Killings, and Fraud

During a U.S. Senate debate on January 21, 1907, Tillman boasted about how he and others successfully disenfranchised blacks after the Civil War through intimidation, killings, and fraud. He revealed that depriving blacks of their newly accorded political rights was in fact his motivation for becoming involved in politics: “We reorganized the Democratic Party with one plank, and only one plank, namely, that ‘This is a white man’s country and white men must govern it.’ Under that banner we went to battle.”

He meant “battle” literally, recounting how he and others killed blacks in a series of armed conflicts: “A month later we had the Ellenton riot, in which no one ever knew how many negroes were killed, but there were forty or fifty or a hundred. It was a fight between barbarism and civilization, between the African and the Caucasian, for mastery. It was then that ‘we shot them’; it was then that ‘we killed them’; it was then that ‘we stuffed ballot boxes.’”

Tropes of Darwinian Evolution

Tillman justified his actions by drawing on the standard tropes of evolutionary racism. As he explained, “We had decided to take the government away from men so debased as were the negroes — I will not say baboons; I never have called them baboons; I believe they are men, but some of them are so near akin to the monkey that scientists are yet looking for the missing link.” (Emphasis added.) According to Tillman, it was the supposed biological inferiority of blacks that justified him in stealing elections: “We saw the evil of giving the ballot to creatures of this kind, and saying that one vote shall count regardless of the man… Then it was that we stuffed ballot boxes, because desperate diseases require desperate remedies.”

Frankly, I am appalled that South Carolina would continue to honor such a man. I definitely don’t favor illegally removing his statue (let alone blowing it up), but I do favor legally removing it.

Here’s an idea: Replace Tillman’s statue with a statue honoring the nine black Republican congressmen from South Carolina during the 1870s-1890s. Then move Tillman’s statue to a museum, and surround it with an exhibit exposing his racist record, including his promotion of scientific racism.

John G. West

Senior Fellow, Managing Director, and Vice President of Discovery Institute
Dr. John G. West is Vice President of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and Managing Director of the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Formerly the Chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at Seattle Pacific University, West is an award-winning author and documentary filmmaker who has written or edited 12 books, including Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society, and Walt Disney and Live Action: The Disney Studio’s Live-Action Features of the 1950s and 60s. His documentary films include Fire-Maker, Revolutionary, The War on Humans, and (most recently) Human Zoos. West holds a PhD in Government from Claremont Graduate University, and he has been interviewed by media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, Reuters, Time magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.



Africansbaboonsballot boxesBenjamin Tillmanblack inferiorityCaucasiansCivil WarDemocratic PartyEllenton riotevolutionary racismhistorical figureslynchingmissing linkmonkeyspolitical rightsRacismscientific racismSouth Carolinastatuesstealing electionsU.S. SenateUnited States