- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 7, 2015

South Carolina is a state of contradictions, and nowhere is this more apparent than its capital, Columbia, where the battle over removal of the Confederate flag remains heated in the wake of the brutal slayings of Rep. Clementa Pinckney and several others at a historic black church in Charleston.

Along with its dichotomy of history versus present, Columbia offers much for visitors.

Located on vibrant Main Street, The Nickelodeon is a specialty cinema that recently converted what was once a blacks-only balcony into a second space for screening indies, filmfests and teaching film/video classes.

Since 2007, The Nick has co-produced the Indie Grits Festival, showcasing Southeastern cinematic, artistic, culinary and musical talents. This summer’s Southern Gothic projects Dixie-set classics such as “Deliverance” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The Nick’s ongoing discussion/screening “Civil Rights Sunday” series has even shown “Before Rosa: The Unsung Contributions of Sarah Mae Flemming,” documenting a South Carolinian defying segregated public transport.

Shortly after June’s Charleston massacre, The Nick screened local filmmaker Tom Hall’s 2015 documentary, “Compromised,” about the statehouse’s Confederate flag flap, donating proceeds to Emanuel AME Church, where the Charleston shootings happened.

Marching south down Main one passes markers bearing text and images chronicling Columbia’s Civil Rights struggle before reaching the capital’s blue granite, 180-foot-high, copper-domed State House, with 22 Corinthian monolithic columns and six bronze stars marking where General Sherman’s cannonballs struck the Greek Revival-style edifice in 1865.

The grounds include magnolia trees, a statue of Dixiecrat Senator Strom Thurmond and the African-American History Monument, built on the Capitol building’s east side as part of a compromise removing that much-embattled Confederate battle flag from the statehouse’s dome to prominently fly on a flagpole in 2000.

Ed Dwight’s 2001 granite-and-bronze monument features 12 panels depicting black history highlights — including the Middle Passage, slavery, emancipation and Reconstruction, the first-of-its-kind shrine at any U.S. statehouse.

The State House offers free tours; on the regular legislative session’s final day, June 4, among those I saw the Senate floor was Rev. Pinckney himself, that state’s youngest-ever elected state legislator — who’d soon lie in state there after being shot June 17 at Charleston’s AME Church.

Echoes of the past

Originally founded in 1896 by the Daughters of the Confederacy, the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum consists of Civil War-era displays, dioramas, audio, murals and artifacts like derringers, daguerreotypes, decorations, uniforms and sabers. A wall text notes blockade runner George Alfred Trenholm was a model for “Gone With the Wind“‘s Rhett Butler. Among those honored here are the five regiments of freed South Carolina slaves who fought for the Union.

This being the sesquicentennial of General Sherman’s March, which triggered Columbia’s burning, “Paths of Destruction, Sherman’s Final Campaign” is currently exhibited.

A mini-Williamsburg, Lexington County Museum examines South Carolinian life from the Revolution up to the Civil War. As museum director J.R. Fennell put it: “If it wasn’t for sirens or cars going by, you could imagine you’re in 1850.”

A treasure trove of paintings, statues and graphics, the Columbia Museum of Art is the capital’s thriving art scene’s hub. Columbia’s admirable arts showcase boasts Botticelli and Monet originals, Frederic Remington’s 1895 bronze “Bronco Buster,” plus portraiture ranging from Charles Wilson Peale’s 1779 General Washington oil to Andy Warhol’s 1960s/‘70s silkscreens of Chairman Mao, Marilyn Monroe and other notables in a major exhibit running through Sept. 13. Celebrating her centennial of teaching at Columbia College, “Georgia O’Keeffe: Her Carolina Story” opens Oct. 9.

All of this and more pays tributes to Columbia’s — and South Carolina’s — complicated past, present polarity and hopeful future.

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