South Carolina leaders call for monument to honor black Civil War hero

Even as debates about Confederate monuments rage across the United States, two South Carolina state senators are proposing the installation of a new Civil War memorial -- dedicated to a former slave-turned-Union hero.

Republican State Sen. Chauncey K. "Greg" Gregory and Democratic State Sen. Darrell Jackson made the proposal Wednesday and hope to have the monument erected on the same South Carolina state house grounds where a Confederate flag flew until 2015.

“We’ve been concerned about all the controversy over the monuments around the south and country in recent months," Gregory told Fox News. "We don’t feel the monuments need to be taken down. They are a part of history. But perhaps a better way forward would be to build additional monuments that tell the full story.”

He added: “at this time in history our communities, state and country need greater unity and less dissension.”

Gregory and Jackson were two of the forces working together to have the Confederate flag removed from the Capitol grounds in July 2015.

“There are many issues we see eye-to-eye on, and this is one of them,” Gregory said.

So the pair is uniting again to push for a statue that memorializes the life and accomplishments of Robert Smalls, an ex-slave who helped free other slaves and commandeered a Confederate ship.

“Creating a statue honoring Robert Smalls is not meant to take away from the conversation many around the nation are having, calling for the removal of Confederate statues,” Jackson said in a statement to Fox News. “It is my hope that this statue will serve as an opportunity to highlight another aspect of South Carolina's history.”

During the Civil War, Smalls worked as a steersman aboard a Confederate supply ship. In 1862, Smalls and other enslaved members of the crew took over the ship and sailed out of Charleston Harbor. He later surrendered the ship and all military supplies aboard to the Union. As a reward for his deeds, everyone aboard the ship was freed and Smalls instantly became known as a Union war hero.

“While I think the State House grounds is a place where historical monuments should be displayed, I think it should be a place that represents all of South Carolina's history,” Jackson said.

Gregory says the next step is to introduce the legislation before the South Carolina Senate convenes in January.

“We'd then need to get it through that body and the South Carolina House and be signed by the governor to move forward,” said Gregory, who added the response from membership had been positive so far.

If approved, they will begin raising money from private sources and designs will be drafted for the statue.

Gregory said it may take as long as three years to completely design and build the memorial. Once completed Smalls' would be the first monument to commemorate the life of a Civil War-era African American on the grounds.