Addressing America’s Statues of Limitations: A Monumental Undertaking
The killing of George Floyd has resulted in actions of various types against historical statues in the United States that may celebrate or demonstrate bigotry or racial bias. These actions have sparked a national conversation on what to do because of those statues.
In our opinion, the statues under scrutiny are America’s statues of limitations. They are part of America’s history. They communicate messages intentionally and unintentionally regarding the historical limitations of this nation and the persons they represent.
The statues that have been acted upon include not only the usual suspects, such as representations of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and Stonewall Jackson, but also of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Ulysses S. Grant. What these actions have revealed is that what is in our American memories regarding these figures may be incomplete and/or inaccurate. Consider the following examples.
Many of the statues that have been assailed fall into a category known as Lost Cause Confederate Statues or Monuments. The majority of these statutes were erected in the South in the early 20th century with the support of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Their purpose and placement were to reposition the Civil War defeat as a valiant and worthy effort, as well as to ensure that whites returned to power while black progress and the potential for integration was retarded.
White superiority and racially insensitive attitudes in the U.S. have not just been restricted to the South. In spite of all his notable accomplishments, Theodore Roosevelt considered blacks inferior to whites. There is a statue of Roosevelt mounted proudly on a horse with a Native American on one side and a Black American on the other side that has stood at the entrance to the American Museum of Natural History since 1940. Because of its hierarchical depiction, the optics of that statue have been a cause for concern and controversy for some time. On June 21, the Museum asked the city to remove Roosevelt’s statue from its entrance.
Likewise, on June 28, Princeton University decided to remove Woodrow Wilson’s name from the building that has housed the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at the University…