Did the NAACP ‘Hide’ a Statue of George Washington for an MLK Memorial Event?

A rally honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Columbia, South Carolina became fodder for chain emails and accusations online in January 2011 as a photograph circulated online.

The photo showed the crowd at the event, hosted by the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), near a statue of former U.S. President George Washington, with the statue enclosed by what looked like a box:

The email read:

The annual MLK observance at the state house in Columbia SC had an interesting twist this year. The event is held on the north side steps of the statehouse. Prominent at that location is a large bronze statue of George Washington. This year, the NAACP constructed a “box” to conceal the Father of His Country from view so that participants would not be offended by his presence.

From there the claim spread to blogs, and continued to circulate through social media as of January 2022. Searching for “George Washington Statue Covered” on Facebook, for example, produces several iterations of the photograph:

The local newspaper, The State, reported at the time:

A three-sided structure that covered the front and sides of the statue was intended to display a rally graphic and serve as a photo-and-television backdrop for the event’s speakers, said S.C. NAACP executive director Dwight James. However, the graphic was not finished before the rally and could not be put in place.

Photos from the event showed a three-sided box with Washington’s statue visible only from behind the stage. “What we had constructed was a background with a graphic to be placed on it,” James said. “We weren’t trying to obstruct anything.”

The newspaper also reported that organizers for the annual rally had built similar structures around the statue dating back to 2007. The rally itself, which later became known as King Day at the Dome, was first held in 2000 and originated other demonstrations against the display of the Confederate flag, which ultimately led to a breakthrough. As The State reported in 2020:

After the 2000 King Day at the Dome, lawmakers negotiated a compromise to lower the flag from atop the State House dome to a spot on the State House grounds, flying next to the Confederate Soldier Monument, located in a prominent place near the busy intersection of Main and Gervais streets.

That compromise also recognized Martin Luther King Day and created Confederate Memorial Day as state holidays.

The event was held virtually in 2021 on account of the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizers have already confirmed that the January 2022 event will also be held online.

Update 1/14/2022, 4:08 p.m. PST: This article has been revamped and updated. You can review the original here. -ag