Service of Set in Stone: Make Changes but Leave Statues Alone

June 15th, 2020

Categories: Protest, Statue

Photo: Patch.com

I disagree with the downing of statues. A piece of history and art is gone. But what has the destruction done to change the lives of injured parties?

I maintain that most citizens haven’t a clue about the people depicted in the statues much less anything about their lives.

John McDonogh Photo: en.wikipedia.org

I hadn’t heard of John McDonogh until this weekend when his statue landed in the Mississippi River. A successful entrepreneur, some highlights about him in addition to his being a slaveholder according to Wikipedia : “He had devised a manumission scheme whereby the people he held as enslaved could ‘buy’ their own freedom, which took them some 15 years. In his will he provided large grants for the public education of children of poor whites and freed people of color in New Orleans and Baltimore.” He also supported the American Colonization Society, which organized transportation for freed people of color to Liberia.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wants the bronze statue of Christopher Columbus by Jeronimo Suñol in Manhattan to remain in place. “He said he supports the iconic Manhattan monument because it has come to represent the assimilation of Italian-American people,” Jon Campbell of usatoday.com reported. “Protesters, who have also targeted Confederate monuments across the country, say Columbus’ exploration shouldn’t be idolized because it led to the massacre and forced migration of Native Americans,” Campbell wrote.

While the New York Governor isn’t keen on pulling down statues, he actually DID SOMETHING to face up to police brutality: he signed a bill banning police choke holds and other modifications while implementing executive orders demanding changes with teeth for towns throughout the state. If local administrations want state money they must comply.

Jay Leno Photo: pinterest.com

History isn’t our strong suit. Like me most Americans couldn’t identify the 19th and early 20th century people represented in most statuary so they could hardly be offended by it. Remember Jay Leno’s “JayWalking” segments in which he’d ask questions of the public like “who is this?” showing a photo of Barack Obama when he ran for President–the respondent didn’t know–or “Where is Bangkok?” Answer: “a hotel” or “What was the disaster of 1986?” Answer “Pearl Harbor.”

Is there a single public figure who hasn’t infuriated one or another group? If we take down one statue shouldn’t we take them all down and make it a law that no statues be allowed in public places in future?

Don’t most prominent figures have a few redeeming virtues and accomplishments along with what we find repugnant about them today? Is removing a figure of someone whose behavior, in hindsight, is considered atrocious supposed to change what happened or substantially help the offended?

Photo: inc.com

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26 Responses to “Service of Set in Stone: Make Changes but Leave Statues Alone”

  1. BC Said:

    Knocking down statues is only one of many ways to try to destroy our history,culture, and promote lawlessness in our country to destroy our democracy. Many feel some of these rioters are paid to do these acts, trying to undermine our police/country. As many have noted, the breakdown in the family unit has plagued African Americans for many decades. A solid family life with a good father leading, would make a difference for young black males not killing each other (as they do in Chicago and elsewhere) or getting into trouble with drugs, violence, and criminal activities. Our welfare systems encourages women to stay single thus making matters worse.

    No question, we are in need of police reform, which is coming.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    BC,

    I have no way to prove what I am about to write but I suspect that the tearing down of statues is not something that the majority of African Americans thought of and is not in the top ten list of priorities of people who are treated savagely by police and discriminated against in education by their zip code and unfairly judged in the job market. Everyone wants to be treated fairly; not to be petrified to walk down a street or drive down a block and to have an equal crack at education and a dream job at a stable company. These would be the druthers of protesters and those who support them pretty sure.

    I have seen photos of the looters. Again no proof but I doubt that the same people are tearing down statues or instigated by others to do so. In fact, I saw people of many colors on TV news coverage robbing stores. They are not interested in history or statues.

    I know several single women never married who have children. They are white. Single motherhood–or fatherhood for that matter–is a huge burden and obviously the ideal is to have two parents. I think that poverty is what makes the difference and along with addressing police brutality, education and training and awareness leading to job opportunities where the focus appears to be finally shifting, there will be less need to feel frustrated and helpless therefore demanding erasing the past by destroying statues.

  3. Nancy Farrell Said:

    I read an interesting article about how many of these statues are newer than I thought. This makes me think the people who put them there were sending a message and that it wasn’t about art and history and assimilation. The version of history that they are glorifying is inflicting pain on people today and this happens in highly visible areas of cities and towns. If people want to pay move them to private land or museums with permission from local municipalities fine by me. Otherwise I see no benefit to keeping them on public land.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Nancy,

    For sure the date, the sponsoring organization and placement of a statue is a crucial element in this discussion if they project was meant to enrage. I am referring to vintage statues.

    Placement on private land and museums works for me rather than destruction. So would a caption by a statue that tells about the person depicted.

    I am nevertheless haunted by what I suspect are the majority who are not hurt or offended by a depiction of a person they never heard of but who would instead appreciate all the effort, energy and money of well-wishers to tear down statues–or even move them–directed to enhance their lives.

  5. Cathy Carlozzi Said:

    Cathy on Facebook: Columbus is a hateful symbol out here in Indian Country. I’ve long wanted to see his statues removed.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Cathy,

    Kudos to the school system as I suspect there aren’t many people I know who are familiar with the details of the lives of famous 16th century personages. The problem with this discussion is that there are an equal number of people who think he deserves to be remembered. Does that matter? Wouldn’t a permanent sign that highlighted a person’s legacy serve to educate those unaware of what he did well and not?

  7. Edward Baecher Said:

    Edward on Facebook: Unfortunately the only way to keep everybody happy is to take down all statues, all of them. As you say above everybody in someway has infringed.

    From George Washington to Barack Obama, Trump included.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Edward,

    The Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial…our heritage?

  9. Lucrezia Said:

    It’s wrong to use the stupidity of others to justify one’s opinion, but this issue begs an exception. The very idea of tearing down, not only a work of art, but an important historical symbol as well, is an atrocity beyond description.

    Take Ancient Egypt, where Tutmose III is angered with his predecessor (Queen Hatshepsut), so as to insure his importance, wipes out as many traces of auntie as he can find. IIIs son, finds daddy equally obnoxious, and down the lines they go destroying valuable artifacts, all of which brings us to today’s Egyptologists complaining loudly of such behavior which deprives us all of valuable historical knowledge. Today’s dumbos are even worse, since the ugly precedent is staring them in the face.

    Worse yet, these modern day vandals are rewriting history by claiming the Civil War was all about slavery. It wasn’t and I strongly suggest that these super righteous bigots have a huge serving of “book larning” to do. Sadly, it’s doubtful it’ll do much good, assuming the preponderance of rocks rattling about in their respective heads.

  10. Nancy Farrell Said:

    I have no objection to historical figures being mentioned. I do object to having been taught incorrect information and having that bad information being front and center and presented as truth by people I trusted. My grandmother was from England and learned about the American Revolution way differently than I did. Why? I grew up in the US and my books were written by Americans. Hers were not. So these statues are only telling one side of the story and there are major omissions because the history lessons are biased to say the least. The war dead could be honored in cemeteries. Presidents have their libraries where they can spin their version of their accomplishments. I’m sure there are plenty of cultural sites that could take the Columbus statues. If we are truly interested in history, let’s learn history the way it happened and not the way we wish it had happened. Otherwise, these tales belong in the historical fiction aisle of the library, not presented as fact.

  11. Cathy Carlozzi Said:

    Cathy on Facebook: Funny, had this discussion with some family members yesterday. Museums have the ability to provide context. You can try putting signage on public statuary to provide context. They’ve tried it here in SF. Doesn’t really work. Columbus statues appeared when the waves of Italian immigrants to America began to assimilate. But it’s the original inhabitants of this continent who find him offensive. We’re the usurpers. That we are here to stay is irrefutable. But why leave the gasoline on that fire. Slavery isn’t our only original sin, or our first. Put all these offensive statues in museums and provide historical context. Don’t leave them them as public symbols of oppression.

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Cathy, I’ve also been discussing this with friends and one relative which is why I wrote the post. One comment on the post lamented the false history she was taught in school and another wrote [an excerpt] “these modern day vandals are rewriting history by claiming the Civil War was all about slavery. It wasn’t.” Before we move a statue to a museum–a million times better than tossing it in the river–we need to agree on history. In addition each community should have a discussion to determine what to do. I fear that isn’t what is happening and people with other agendas are forcibly taking over and making the decisions. Last, the original inhabitants of this continent have been and are treated abominably. I think addressing issues of health, education, housing and income might be more important to them than the luxury of how they feel when they walk or drive past a statue that they may not have paid attention to for decades.

  13. MarthaTakayama Said:

    Nancy Farrell’s insight about teaching history more realistically and correctly certainly addresses a major problem in our everyday living and folklore. Cathy’s observation about museums having the ability to provide context, is very important. Artistic social, political and cultural history can all be used to explain the reasons for different art work even though they may be offensive to some. The preservation of information that way serves to enlighten us on many levels. It seems much more positive than removal and destruction. It seems these issues have never been examined as openly as now. Thanks for a wonderful post.

  14. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    Instead of rectifying what may still be going on, in the case of the native Americans and African Americas miserable and dangerous circumstance in many cases–some feel they are satisfying people in drastic circumstances by nibbling at the edges of the problems. It’s understandable but not defensible.

    Between your comment and Nancy’s it appears that history lessons and perhaps research are in order.

  15. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Nancy,

    I don’t read enough history to determine what is and isn’t accurate. My husband did and I think even he would not have been able to definitively point to accurate and inaccurate interpretations. I wonder how attending a parochial school–regardless of religion–impacts what’s taught in history class.

    If statues were a thing today we might see some of Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and other captains of industry as well as politicians Barack Obama, Donald Trump, John McCain, Hillary Clinton or George Bush. Depending on who writes history or what biography remains will impact their legacies and what future generations think of them.

  16. Martha Takayama Said:

    The matter of tearing down statues (as well as changing names of building)s to reflect current social and political norms as well as history is very confusing. Destruction of artwork is sad in and of itself and also is costly in real terms in an economy hard pressed to keep up with health care and other public needs. It is also often a commonplace of civil unrest and war. Think of the anger and anguish over the destruction of religious sculpture in Iran, Afghanistan and other far away.

    It is a difficult matter to keep up with constant social and political evolution and revolution.It is difficult to decide when, where and how to proceed fairly. Revising history is a fluid continuous painful phenomenom. Although it is uncomfortable to confront our history It would seem universally beneficial to remove homages to slavery and the confederacy. Removal of offending statutory or other visuals won’t make up for atrocious wrongs but might serve as guidance for a better society.

  17. Jim Gordon Said:

    Leave the statues and put clear information about their lives on a visible plaque. Remember by destroying the statues we’re also ruining what may have been good art. I hate racism and it’s component issues, but that won’t make people non-racist. Good going J-M.

  18. Nancy Farrell Said:

    I have been reading more because of debates such as this one. I’m reading the “causes of seceding states.” So far I’ve read the reasons Georgia and Mississippi gave. Real eye openers there. Thank you for taking the risk by starting this conversation, Jeanne!

  19. Brian Josselyn Said:

    Brian wrote on Facebook: A lot of the races statues throughout the south will put up in the 20s to intimidate the black population. Stop romanticizing five years of the confederacy they lost they were treasonous and they don’t need to be celebrated or honored or respected what so fucking ever

  20. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Brian,

    I heard this a.m. of statues installed in the 1960s as a stick in the eye to Martin Luther King. I didn’t know about those in the 1920s. Get rid of all of these. But the originals created and installed after 1865 and 1870–the end of the Civil War and the death of General Lee–are historic and should be kept in place with an explanatory permanent stone or copper caption. If a community is unhappy with this solution–and the community should decide, not outsiders–then preserve them in a museum but don’t destroy them. Like it or not they represent our history.

  21. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Nancy,

    You are intuitive. I hesitated posting this as based on conversations I predicted my take would be in the minority and chopped fine by comments like minced parsley in tabouleh.

    Good for you–a fact-seeker! Something lacking in far too much discourse today.

  22. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Jim,

    You said it so simply–and I should have included the point in my post: removing statues won’t make people non-racist.

  23. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Martha,

    I agree with what you wrote especially: “Removal of offending statutory or other visuals won’t make up for atrocious wrongs but might serve as guidance for a better society.” One of the most moving places I’ve visited was Anne Frank’s hiding place in Amsterdam. Auschwitz-Birkenau and other concentration camps also remain as reminders.

  24. Brian Josselyn Said:

    Brian wrote on Facebook: Yes. Five years of history that represents the oppression of an entire group of people. There are a lot of other historic figures that were more worthy than the treasonous white supremacists

  25. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Brian Josselyn

    The war was about many things as most wars are: states rights, secession, industry vs farming, the economics of slavery and political control of the system. It started because the government wouldn’t recognize the right of the south to secede. If you live in a community with a statue that disturbs you propose a few you’d approve of to take a nearby place and organize a campaign to pay for the installation.

  26. Nancy Farrell Said:

    The example of Anne Frank’s hiding place is a good one. It honors her life and history and struggles. It does not glorify her murderers.

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