Politics & Government

South Carolina GOP lawmaker McConnell defends picture with 'slave' re-enactors

Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, center, in a photo that is causing a stir in South Carolina.
Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, center, in a photo that is causing a stir in South Carolina. The State / Courtesy of Thomas C. Hanson

Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell says a picture circulating on the Internet of him dressed in a Civil War-era military uniform alongside two African-Americans outfitted in period costumes was an innocent moment among friends — nothing more.

The picture, taken during a Republican women's conference in Charleston last week, however, has managed to capture national media attention. Some think the image callously evokes the state's slave-holding past.

McConnell, a Charleston Republican, is perhaps the most powerful lawmaker in the state, also chairing the pivotal Senate Judiciary Committee.

McConnell also is widely known in the state as an avid Civil War enthusiast and re-enactor. His passionate advocacy for restoring the Confederate Hunley submarine is legendary and controversial.

McConnell insists the image is being misinterpreted.

"It was a friendly photograph," McConnell said Wednesday. "It's a great statement as to how far this state has come."

"Receive it in the spirit it was presented that evening," McConnell urged, adding there were no apologies to be made for the effort.

But others said the image evokes painful memories of historic oppression in this state. South Carolina once had the nation's second-largest slave port in Charleston, where the photo was snapped.

"That’s the senator's unfortunate world view," said Rev. Joe Darby, first vice president of the state NAACP, noting the African-Americans in the picture are in a seemingly subservient role. "The troubling question is how much does his world view affect his approach to public policy?"

The National Federation of Republican Women's conference, which included GOP women from across the country, had asked McConnell to arrange a group of re-enactors to depict several strands of South Carolina's history for the group, he said.

Among the invited re-enactors were members of a Gullah-Geechee cultural group, which travels around bringing to life the Lowcountry African-American experience during the mid-1800s, including their dress, music and singing.

McConnell says he is dressed in the photograph in a blue Confederate Navy captain's uniform, the same one he wore in a movie about the Confederate submarine Hunley, he said, in which McConnell had a nonspeaking role.

Read more of this story and see the photo in question at TheState.com