Neighbors Up in Arms Over Proposed “Swamp Fox” Statue in Marion (Turtle) Park

The Proposed Francis Marion Memorial Would Go in Marion Park.

The Proposed Francis Marion Memorial Would Go in Marion Park

View of Marion Park Looking Southwest.  Improvements to the Park Have Been Underway for Several Years, with Seemingly Little Progress

View of Marion Park Looking Southwest. Improvements to the Park Have Been Underway for Several Years, with Seemingly Little Progress

Neighbors Up in Arms Over Proposed “Swamp Fox” Statue in Marion (Turtle) Park

by Larry Janezich

The neighbors of Marion Park are organizing to stop or slow down an effort to locate a larger than life-sized statue of Francis Marion, the park’s namesake and an American Revolutionary War military officer who used irregular methods to fight the British in South Carolina.  Known as the Swamp Fox, Marion’s legacy is controversial, (See Wikipedia, here:  http://bit.ly/1o6BerY)

Neighbors of the park rose at last Tuesday’s ANC meeting to question whether a Capitol Hill neighborhood is an appropriate place for a statue of a former slave holder who they said mistreated his slaves and participated in brutal tactics in a war against Native Americans.  Objections were also raised regarding the failure of the National Park Service to involve neighbors in the process, on the proposed statue’s negative impact on recreational use of the park and on the lack of provision for maintaining the site.

The National Park Service was on hand at Tuesday’s meeting, to justify use of the site for the statue – Marion Park is the last piece of federally owned land on South Carolina Avenue.  The agency received a tongue lashing from ANC commissioners who faulted them for failure to inform the ANC of the plan, failure to follow up on concerns raised about the project raised at the Planning and Zoning Committee earlier this month, and failure to coordinate the project with the neighborhood – as well as for the stalled work on improving the park.  Despite these reservations, the ANC approved a letter supporting approval for siting the memorial in Marion Park on a narrow vote of 4 – 3 with 2 abstentions.

Neighbors of the park have begun collecting signatures for a petition to the National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission and other agencies to oppose the statue.  You can find the petition and the neighbors’ concerns in the Library at the top of the home page.  (See here:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1EVtv9FSomx3YhJxHKpqVBBw8sIsXMph-a0EMrLGiz3I/viewform?fbzx=-3859498444572146527 )

One of the neighbors, Helen Luryi, when asked about the feelings of the nearby residents, said, “Marion is a controversial figure.  We’re unhappy there’s been little input from the community and many of us are just now finding out about this proposal. The ANC let it go forward despite comments from the community that were 100% negative. The park has been under construction on and off for years – in fact, it’s under construction right now – and we just want to be able to use the park fully.  We have enough statues in DC and this park is a small, open space that a statue would ruin.”

Marion Park is between 4th & 6th Streets and E Street and South Carolina Avenue, SE.  It is also known as Turtle Park for the large turtle in the children’s play area.  MPD Substation 1-D-1 faces the park, as does Pleasant Lane Baptist Missionary Church.  The latter was designed for Mt. Jezreel Baptist Church in 1883 by Calvin T.S. Brent, DC’s first African American architect.  The proposed statue is the brainchild of John F. McCabe, a Columbia, South Carolina financial advisor.  (His website with additional information on the project is here:  http://www.swampfoxmemorial.org/)

The National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission will meet to hear the case for siting the memorial by Palmetto Conservation Foundation (a sponsor of the memorial, and based in Columbia, South Carolina) – in a public meeting on September 23, 2014 at 2:00 pm, in Room 311, the Boardroom of the Commission of Fine Arts, at the National Building Museum, 401 S Street, N.W., Washington, D.C

Congress authorized the NPS to conduct commemorative work to honor Marion in 2008.  That authorization is likely to expire before the work is finished, requiring a re-authorization.

24 Comments

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24 responses to “Neighbors Up in Arms Over Proposed “Swamp Fox” Statue in Marion (Turtle) Park

  1. Andrea Rosen

    Did “the Swamp Fox” have any relationship to this city, to Capitol HIll, or to that piece of land? Or is some S.C. resident with deep pockets just trying to foist his personal hero on the residents of the District (for a change)? How sad that the National Park Service is reduced to taking orders from anyone with an excess of money.

  2. Kathleen

    Not only was the church designed by Calvin T.S. Brent, it was among the first and I think one of the only surviving DC churches to be built by freedmen.
    This is a poor way to honor that legacy, and yet another insult to DC residents.
    Many people may not realize that the Mel Gibson (great guy) film “The Patriot” was intended as a biopic of Marion, but when they got wind of all the raping of female slaves, etc., movie executives “fictionalized” the character:
    http://www.theguardian.com/film/2000/jun/15/news.melgibson

    I doubt you can call a film that treats the American Revolution without addressing the subject of slavery “ethical,” but whatever it is, Hollywood’s decision to forsake Marion’s name suggests their review of history is more mindful than that of the US Congress, or the National Park Service.

    The point is not that Marion was a slaveholder or that he fought in the Seven Years War–many of the founding fathers would fit the former, and several the latter. It is that he is known to history for his particularly brutal treatment of especially female slaves and his slaughter of the Cherokee nation. One historian writing in a now-dated work, and given to celebrating the Anglo-Saxon genius for founding “an empire the freest and best in the annals of time,” nevertheless credited Marion, then just a boy, with “a pathetic record of utter desolation inflicted upon the Cherokees.”

    I will attend this hearing.

    • James

      Kathleen – So well said! Right to the point!

      Also, there is plenty of archival material that Francis Marion was much more brutal than most men of his time

  3. Tom

    If NPS is taking orders, in my view it is most likely from someone in the S Carolina delegation in Congress. They can’t afford to have their budget whacked any more. Very sad situation.

  4. Kim Nead

    Anyone who wants to do so may file a written statement with the National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission prior to the meeting. Individuals can also attend the meeting and testify for a few minutes in front of the Commission regarding their consideration of alternative sites for the memorial. The person to contact is brandon_bies@nps.gov.

  5. The opposition to this is insipid, and tries to apply 21st century morals to someone who was born in the 1700s. This is the worst kind of hyper-hysterical political correctness. George Washington owned slaves. Thomas Jefferson not only owned them, he did far . . . more with them. The Marines on Iwo Jima were no angels as they retook that island. Shall we investigate the service records of the men represented on the Marine Corps War Memorial? They were, after all, white men born in the 1920s, and I doubt they spent their spare time working at soup kitchens or snuggling puppies. All of these individuals undoubtedly held some beliefs, and engaged in some actions that people would describe as “brutal,” and 21st century people would find abhorrent. Yet we justifiably honor them all.

    That NATIONAL park is named after Francis Marion, someone whose bona fides in helping the United States gain its independence cannot seriously be questioned. And yet now, in modern times, people have decided that it is disgraceful to even remember him. Absurd.

    First, to the person carping over the incursion onto Capitol Hill — Marion Park is a NATIONAL park, and therefore any resident of this country should be able to have a say over what should or shouldn’t be in the park. Being located on Capitol Hill doesn’t give local residents any special veto. It’s on South Carolina Ave, in a NATIONAL park, and therefore the person pushing for the statute is entirely justified in seeking to place it there. Many aspects of this city carry a NATIONAL identity, and a National Park is surely one of them.

    Next, in thinking that Hollywood gave more consideration than Congress, the President (who signed the Executive Order authorizing placement), or the NPS, it might surprise you to learn that Hollywood is not about promoting morals so much as it is about promoting MONEY. They’re not all stupid. Obviously, putting out a movie in the 21st century depicting some of Marion’s actions in an 18th century WAR would have been a turn-off to enough folks, and caused enough controversy, that it would NOT MAKE MONEY. Don’t try and glom onto Hollywood as some sort of moral arbiter. They care about the bottom line.

    Of course, many of the MOTH-posting, Eastern Market browsing crowd, will sniff and decide that I must be a Tea Partier because I’m not toeing the politically correct line. I’m sure I’ll get called racist, because that’s the best means for someone to shut down argument, if they lack a counter. But that is because they are directed by dogma, not a devotion to facts. I think I’m in good company: the U.S. District Court Judge who prevented anti-evolution “intelligent design,” advocates from pushing their anti-science was called an “activist liberal judge.” However, he was a Dubya appointee, and was plenty conservative. He just recognized dogma, irrational thought, and misplaced outrage, so he called it out, angering many people with whom he agreed on likely many other topics. So be it here.

    The Smithsonian itself has declared Marion a “hero of the revolution.”

    http://www.smithsonianmag.com/biography/the-swamp-fox-157330429/?no-ist

    (it notes that Marion was “no saint” by modern standards and yet still credits him as a hero — go cancel your Smithsonian membership, all you Outrage Junkies!).

    The US Army even credits Francis Marion as leading to the development of the US Army Rangers. But because some local residents want to complain about a NATIONAL park, the NPS should stop all efforts. I’m surprised the name/sign hasn’t been defaced yet.

    It’s worth teaching children that the founders of this country, the people who helped bring it into being, were not perfect. But we honor those who helped found this country, despite their flaws, because this country allows those who are flawed to still flourish. We learn, we grow, and we continue. We don’t try to pretend the past didn’t happen, or that people whose actions wouldn’t pass muster now never did anything positive when they were alive.

    Some residents of Capitol Hill want to apply modern morals to a man born almost 300 years ago. If the statue is placed, I’d be proud to explain to generations that we honor a man who helped found this country, but was no angel. Nuance is important, no matter the issue.

    • Tom

      Tai Fung, there is a lot to agree with, in principle, in your comment. Those who judge actions in the past only by the conditions of the present fail to understand how they might have acted, had they been born in the same circumstances. Slavery was abhorrent, a few white landowners in the south recognized that, yet so few people born to landowning families in the south let their slaves go while they were alive. Their economic lives depended on the system of cheap labor that was in place, so pretty much every landowner was able to rationalize their participation. How does someone born in 1970 know what they would have done, had they been born to a landowning family in 1740 in the south?

      My view has always been that Thomas Jefferson, the writer of the Declaration of Independence, is one of history’s heroes. He was also, as your post says, a man of his place and time. Jefferson, rarely for a southern plantation owner, recognized slavery for the evil that it was. It would be hard not for someone who authored “All Men are Created Equal” not to do so. The use of the word “men” instead of “men and women” is another indication of how different the modern world is from the world of the 1700s. Are Jefferson, or Washington (who both owned slaves), no longer worthy of being considered heroic, because of the circumstances of their place and time?

      If the criticisms of Marion are accurate — raping of slaves, wanton slaughter of Cherokees — then there seem to be differences in the types and levels of viciousness between Marion and other southern plantation owners of the time. The qualities that make an excellent leader of guerrillas — and a hero of the revolution — can often be toxic in civilian life, even civilian life in a time and place of slavery.

      I confess to not knowing the history of Marion very well, and don’t trust Wikipedia to help me much. Others who are more knowledgeable than I am will fill in the blanks at the upcoming hearings. It is hard today to acknowledge as heroes anyone who participated in slavery, even sometimes a Jefferson and a Washington; but the criticism of Marion, it seems to me, goes far beyond merely being a slaveowner.

      • Cassandra

        Oh please, in the 18th century, slave-owners knew that owning slaves was wrong. Just like 21st-century people who buy from and manufacture clothes in sweatshops know that that kind of slavery-in-everything-but-name is wrong. And both time-periods have societies that are just fine with genocide. So our group-think status-quo modern morals are exactly the same as the group-think status-quo 18th-century morals.

        Yes, if you’re not taught that something is wrong, you don’t know it’s wrong. But with any exposure to compassion and empathy, your imagination can create what you think is wrong no matter what era or economic status or country or whatever else you’re born in to.

    • Jennifer

      To Tai Fung: What a truly arrogant, insulting, and useless post! Do you even live here?

      Have you not been paying attention? Many neighbors are upset because only a handful of neighbors were informed about the upcoming meetings with just a few days notice! They have the right to be involved in the process that will greatly affect their park! Meanwhile this thing has been in the works for more than seven years!

    • A dude

      The Marine Corps War Memorial is not all white men. Please google Ira Hayes. He was Native American.

  6. Valerie

    In response to this comment about the teachable moment of Marion as war hero: this makes no difference. The most important point is how we the public has been involved in this process. The answer is: not at all. That is NOT democracy! Moreover, if the public HAD been involved, we would not be debating the merits of Marion the man–but the merits of this *project*–two related, but different, things. Democracy is messy, sometimes inefficient, definitely a pain sometimes–but it’s worth trying to live up to it, because the alternative is much worse. (Unless this really *isn’t* about being democratic.)

  7. Jon

    How many neighbors are “up in arms”? 3? 10?

  8. Michael

    We’re a nation of over 200 million registered voters, and each person in the democracy gets an equal vote. A vote doesn’t count more just because it happens to be located close to Marion Park.

    Capitol Hill residents receive a lot of benefits by living in the nation’s capital (e.g. stable economy, great architecture, free museums, etc.), but the significant amount of Federally owned land means that we also sometimes have to accommodate the wishes of individuals in other parts of the country.

    • Tom

      Without knowing about what is going to happen, until the last minute? Without a voice?

      Doesn’t sound like democracy to me.

  9. I would like to clear up a few things with regard to this case as an ANC Commissioner who voted in favor of the proposal in Committee and against it when it was up for final consideration. Because of two abstentions on the vote, the recommendation (which was not glowing at all) was adopted with only 4 out of 9 votes. Disappointing in my view.

    First, (James) the ANC heard about this case about as recently as any one and I believe it was immediately publicized and I believe their was communication with the neighbors who came to our committee where this was first considered. The allegation that the ANC was part of any effort to keep people in the dark is just not accurate.

    Second, among the several dominant issues here, the historical appropriateness or current value context in which we memorialize a civil war warrior was certainly not a key question for me and I doubt is what any commissions felt as central to our role in the process. It makes for a fascinating debate and I am sure sensitive to the idea that if we need more memorials and icons in the City is this the priority demographic or era to celebrate. But while this is excellent fodder for debate I don’t think it was the basis for commissioners primary view of this case – on either side of the vote or non-vote.

    So here were the issues from the opponents side on the commission:

    1. The National Park Service has completely botched this process and previously has botched the process of engagement around the current construction activity on the Park. It is not worth going through all the history here but several months ago NPS representatives totally failed to answer basic questions or to adequately inform the community about what it was doing. For an agency that is about public engagement in its properties and is active in a neighborhood of staff and congressional members that decide its funding this seems stunningly bad. At the recent Commission meeting on this the NPS representative (despite being asked specifically at the committee hearing) refused to answer any questions about the existing construction project and only threw out some ideas of who else at the NPS we might contact about this. If the NPS was at all to be trusted about its ability to move from bad to better process of community engagement, this response completely removed any plausible reason why NPS should be trusted to take a different approach. So #1 in my view this was about NPS credibility on the question of process and they failed with what almost appeared to be intentional disdain towards the community.

    2. The second issue for me was about standing up for statehood. I don’t have a record of going off to be arrested or protesting at hearings but there are few better examples of how the District is not served by its unequal power in the Congress. I don’t know what Delegate Norton’s role in this was but this is the SC delegation pushing this through Congress where we don’t have fair representation and then the agency that they control is failing to consider the constituents of the District of Columbia. To me this is just a manifestation of the problem of unequal and inadequate representation and so it was a place for the ANC to stand up and say “no, the process has not been right on these and we need to ensure that the users and neighbors of the park have a fair hearing.”

    Those are my reasons for voting against the recommendation. I wish my vote had prevailed but it is worth noting that the recommendation did not get a majority of votes on the Commission.

    The Commission did say in our recommendation that: “ANC 6B support for placement is contingent 1) funding for long-term maintenance of the memorial in advance of its completion and 2), a clear defined role for the community moving forward.”,

    That was still not enough for me but note that even the slim margin of support is contingent on something the NPS has yet to deliver on.

    • Kim Nead

      Thanks for sharing, Ivan. I completely agree with your reasons to vote no, and have a few other reasons for opposing selection of Marion Park as the memorial location at this point. I do believe that outreach prior to the ANC meetings on the site selection for the Francis Marion memorial, both subcommittee and full committee, was inadequate. I am not suggesting any nefarious motives. I just wish someone from the ANC, in particular Phil Peisch in whose SMD Marion Park sits, had at least posted a flyer on a pole in the park. It would have been so easy and would have spread the word a bit.

      • Kim Nead

        Sorry, I meant the Planning and Zoning Committee and full ANC6B meetings. I looked at the committee minutes from Sept. 2. Is it true the Mr. DeMarr from NPS said we were at step#1 in a 24 step process, or is that a typo? The architect recently stated that we are at approximately step 9. Actually, I believe we are
        at step# 11!

  10. James

    Yes, the ANC in the person of Phil Peisch was very neglectful of the community because he could have easily rounded up names and email addresses to inform. Instead he provided only a handful of email addresses to Julia Cobb for the invitation to the Tuesday evening park meeting .

    Could it be any clearer that this is already a ‘done deal’ since the Tuesday afternoon Commission meeting will decide if Marion Park will be the site for the memorial? The evening park meeting is a complete insult to the community- giving the illusion of participation.

    Come on- this project has been going on since 2005 and the neighborhood gets less than one week to be informed?

  11. Who is paying for the statue and the maintenance of the statue? I hope this isn’t a tax payer expense and instead it is a private donation. Please don’t waste my money on this statue.

    Although, if you add a dog park fence around the statue, I’d support it.

    • Kim Nead

      By law, it is funded privately; at least no federal funds can support it. The sponsor has to put 10% of the cost of the memorial into a fund to be used by NPS for maintenance of the memorial. There is a cost to the taxpayer in the sense that staff from the National Park Service and other government entities devote resources to shepherding the memorial through the process.

  12. ET

    The park itself has had this name at least by 1896 when I saw an article that refers to it as such. Since it Marion is affiliated with South Carolina it seems that it made sense for it to have been named after Marion over 100 years ago.

    Looks like the statue project has been around since 2005 but the name of the park predates that. There was a General Francis Marion Memorial Act of 2007 that passed both houses (it failed the fist time, then passed). Later the bill was packaged into the omnibus Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008.
    http://www.swampfoxmemorial.org

  13. Marion Nightowl Barry

    Is fighting over the process of erecting a statue in a public park all this community has to concern itself? If we follow this line of thinking, then we need to start a drive to change the name of this city because it is a well documented fact that George Washington was a slave holder and are we absolutely sure that his war tactics weren’t questionable as well?

    Since the name of the park is Marion, I propose that we local citizens, instead of bowing to some South Carolinian with deep pockets, take to the streets and force the ANC to petition the NPS to erect a statue in the likeness of Marion Barry, a patriot without rival. One who has done so much to bring honor and distinction to our fair city. It’s only fair and the politically correct action to save the heritage of the District.