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.
The Other Place at Trustus Theatre
Juliana Smithton is a successful neurologist whose life seems to be coming unhinged. A mystery unfolds as fact blurs with fiction, past collides with present and the elusive truth of Juliana’s mental health boils to the surface in The Other Place, running at Trustus Theatre October 17th through November 1st. There will be a talk-back following the matinee on October 19th. Tickets can be purchased here or by calling the box office at 803-254-9732.
Veteran Vapors now open!
Veteran-owned and operated, Veteran Vapors is located at 2308 Airport Blvd. in West Columbia. This month, 10% of all juice sales will be donated to Save the Ta-Tas. Special discounts available to veterans, military and public safety officials.
$10 Spa Specials!
Join us for 60-minute facials, microdermabrasion, bikini waxing, and more for only $10! 823 Gervais Street, Suite 120. Text your appointment request to 803-468-4643.
3LAU on Sunday, October 26th and the Unofficial Skrillex Mothership Tour After-Party on the 27th. More information and tickets for both can be found here. VIP tables available.
King Lear in Finlay Park
October 16th-18th and 22nd-25th, the South Carolina Shakespeare Company presents William Shakespeare’s King Lear. All performances held at the Finlay Park Ampitheatre at 7:30 PM. For tickets and more information, click here or call 803-665-2000.
SEARCH FREE TIMES
Local business is searching for new associates who are looking for a fun environment to earn great wages. Great position for college students/recent graduates. Must be well-mannered with excellent customer service skills/work ethic/ability to lift heavy items/must have valid Driver’s License. Call 803-376-4884 or email resume: email@example.com.
U.S. Security Associates
Now hiring immediately for armed and unarmed security officers. WE TRAIN YOU! Columbia & surrounding areas. ussecurityassociates.com
Real Estate Spotlight
CoMar Products Inc. Manufacturing quality surfaces for kitchens & baths since 1965. www.comarproducts.com
SC HousingFinancing Housing. Building SC. To find out if you qualify or for more information visit schousing.com
Town Center Apartment Homes in Lake Carolina THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS. Bran new apartments inside award-winning Lake Carolina. towncenteratlakecarolina.com
Mungo Homes. Celebrating 60 years of our family building for your family. mungo.com