Mayor Steve Benjamin generally has no kind words to say about Free Times political columnist Kevin Fisher, a frequent critic.
And Gov. Nikki Haley undoubtedly has days when she’s not happy with a news report or opinion piece on television or in a local newspaper.
But the rough and tumble business of politics today can’t hold a candle to the days when it was literally a blood sport. And the blood was right here on the streets of Columbia.
Consider the opening scene in James Lowell Underwood’s new book Deadly Censorship: Murder, Honor and Freedom of the Press.
It was Jan. 15, 1903, and South Carolina’s lieutenant governor, James H. Tillman, and two state senators had just left a legislative session in the State House and crossed Gervais Street. Coming down Main Street on his way home for lunch was Narciso G. Gonzales, the editor and co-founder of The State newspaper and the man whose writing Tillman blamed for his loss in the gubernatorial primary the previous year.
Without warning, Lt. Gov. Tillman drew a Luger pistol from his pocket and shot the unarmed Gonzales right there on the northeast corner of Gervais and Main. Gonzales died four days later.
At least as shocking was the outcome of Tillman’s trial (which drew heavy national attention) on a charge of murder: He was acquitted.
The trial had been moved across the river to Lexington County — considered “Tillman country” — and most of the all-male jurors were farmers. The jury — shown on the dust jacket of Underwood’s book — apparently bought into the idea that the lieutenant governor’s action was an honorable and appropriate response to the editor’s frequent insulting and belittling of Tillman in print.
“The two had been going at each other for the better part of 13 years,” Underwood said this month in discussing his book.
In the antebellum days, they might well have ended up fighting a duel. By the turn of the 19th century, dueling was out of favor in matters of personal honor, but “It was considered unmanly to go to court,” Underwood said. “You had to have some confrontation.”
In his book, which was just published by the University of South Carolina Press, Underwood looks at the story of the two central characters but also the nature of political comment in newspapers of the day.
It’s clear in the book that Underwood, a professor emeritus of constitutional law at USC, doesn’t sanction the slaying of a political critic, but the picture he paints is nuanced about what happened and why. He provides background about the character of the two men (Gonzales looked scholarly, but he was known to act violently too), he offers astute analysis of the prosecution and defense cases in a detailed review of the trial, and he shares insight into attitudes of personal honor in the South of that era.
Does Underwood see a political lesson for today in the Tillman-Gonzales relationship? In a limited way, yes, he said recently.
“You’re getting this polarity from the cable networks,” he said. “You fight to the death — in a political sense.”
Underwood will speak about his book from noon to 1 p.m. on Jan. 23 at the South Carolina State Library (1500 Senate St., 734-8666) as part of the free Speaker @ the Center series.
Delicious Downtown Breakfast
Tony’s is open for breakfast every day from 7:30-10:30! Conveniently located on Washington St. right off Main. Stop in for something filling and delicious before work! Follow us for updates on specials.
Accepting Applications for Shakespeare’s Kidz!
Students ages 10-16 are invited to join South Carolina Shakespeare’s new youth company, with classes running September 20th-December 11th followed by a final performance. Learn and hone audition skills, monologues, and scenes from Shakespeare and modern works! Contact Katie Mixon with questions about scholarships and applications: PKatieMixon@gmail.com.
Music Break at Music Farm Columbia
Join COR for an evening of networking for music and business leaders on September 3rd, featuring performances by Josh Roberts and the Hinges, Death of Paris, Fat Rat Da Czar, and Lazy A and the Green Thang. Free admission for musicians and members! Register here.
Make Your Own Beer and Wine!
Come get started on your “liquid hobby” and help us celebrate our 46th year in the Columbia area. Bet Mar Liquid Hobby Shop: 736 St. Andrews Road.
Back to School Tattoo Specials
Magnum Ink is offering 1/2 off all tattoos for students over 18 as well as 2 for $60 on letters or numbers for state employees. 1405 Rushmore Road, Suite B, right off of Broad River.
A two-day outdoor art and crafts show celebrating its 38th year. Being held on September 5 & 6, 2014, Click for details
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U.S. Security Associates
Now hiring immediately for armed and unarmed security officers. WE TRAIN YOU! Columbia & surrounding areas. ussecurityassociates.com
Company seeking carpenters, plumbers, masons work is year around with a 40 year old company. Starting pay is $10.00 but experienced individuals will be compensated accordingly. Must have a clean driving record and must bring a copy of your driving record to the interview. Please call 803-865-1200.
Pool Cleaning-Full and part time available. Must have a clean driving record, be organized and have a professional appearance. Starting Pay is $10.00 per hr, please call for an interview, please bring a copy of your Driving record and a list of all past employers with duration of employment listed as well as telephone numbers for references. Cal 803-865-1200
Real Estate Spotlight
Mungo Homes. Celebrating 60 years of our family building for your family. mungo.com