ROCK HILL, SC -- Winthrop police are looking into a vandalism case on campus, where handmade black dolls were hung from a tree.
18 black stockings stuffed with dirt and mulch were shaped to look like people, according to a police report. The display was discovered Sunday evening.
An artist’s group, self-titled the “Association of Artists for Social Change” has claimed responsibility for the display. A spokesperson for the group would not disclose any of the member's names or say how many people were involved but did admit they had been planning it for months, as a protest of Tillman Hall.
"Art challenges one to think, to provoke, even to disturb, in a constant search for truth,” the group said in a statement.
“Arousing our emotions, expanding our sympathies in directions we may not anticipate and may not want. 'Tillman's Legacy', is a work which aims to disrupt the aesthetic veil the building has, eliminating the ability to forget the eighteen men who were lynched during Benjamin Tillman's years in office. One should question, why this artwork is offensive and not the building itself? The building, named Tillman Hall in 1962, in response to the Civil Rights Movement, to incite fear toward prospective students of color. The strong imagery forces a disruption and makes the truth unavoidable. The work is intended to incorporate the willing and unwilling into a dialogue about the building and its history. This work came after the election. The climate made the fear of deportation, detainment and a repeat of history apparent."
The building, named after notorious white supremacist and late politician Ben Tillman, has sparked controversy and protests before.
In 2015 vandals spray-painted the words “Tillman is a violent racist” on the building. Many students have advocated for the building’s name to be changed.
But some students believe the display went too far.
“I automatically felt like it was a threat toward me and anyone who looks like me at this university,” Senior Jina Smith said. “Right now the only message I’m getting is you’re black and you don’t belong.”
Samantha Valdez, spokesperson for the artists’ group, says much of the pain could have been avoided if Winthrop had released their statement immediately. She says it was provided to officials far in advance, on Saturday night.
“We were trying to show the ugliness of Tillman through the image of portraying the 18 men Tillman lynched through his governance,” she said.
Winthrop officials did not acknowledge the statement until the next day, when NBC Charlotte asked about the group.
“The Winthrop University Police investigation of a display near Tillman Hall on Sunday has yielded a claim of responsibility by a group who asserts its action is a protest over the Tillman name on the main administration building,” Winthrop Vice President Jeffrey Perez said in an emailed statement. “The imagery used has been deeply hurtful and threatening to many on campus. This incident will be fully investigated, and those responsible will be held accountable.”