Things That Matter

Here’s Everything You Should Know About The Problematic And Racist Statues Being Torn Down Across The Country

So many of the headlines about the recent protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder have been about “senseless” property destruction. But several of the damaged sites have a perfectly sensible and very visceral connection to the protester’s chief issue: anti-Black racism.

Protests have burned down buildings and toppled statutes that have stood for years as blatant reminders of the country’s history of chattel slavery, racial injustice, and the war that was fought to uphold it.

“In many cases, preserving history was not the true goal of these displays,” former Southern Poverty Law Center president Richard Cohen said of the center’s 2016 report that found at least 1,500 US government-backed tributes to the Confederacy

“Rather, many of them were part of an effort to glorify a cause that was manifestly unjust — a cause that has been whitewashed by revisionist propaganda that began almost as soon as the Civil War ended. Other displays were intended as acts of defiance by white supremacists opposed to equality for African Americans during the civil rights movement.”

So how do you remove a racist monument? This week, the world is witnessing all the satisfyingly destructive ways

All around the country, protesters are removing statutes – but who were these historical figures?

Protesters in Richmond, Virginia, toppled a statue of Jefferson Davis. Earlier in the week, they dragged one of Christopher Columbus into a pond. A bronze monument of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol, England, met a watery demise (it’s since been fished out). An Egyptologist shared step-by-step instructions for how one might pull down an obelisk with ropes and brute force. In Boston, a statue of Columbus was beheaded.

The viral removals of monuments symbolizing racial terror are a push back on a culture that values violence and embeds false narratives about history into its landscapes – especially when it comes to America’s history as a slave-owning nation.

But who or what were these statutes memorializing and why do protesters want them taken down? Below we’ll detail some of the more common statues that are being torn down across the U.S.

Juan de Oñate

Credit: Susan Montoya Bryan / Getty Images

A conquistador and the first Spanish governor of New Mexico, Oñate sought to colonize the Acoma Pueblo, and when spiritual leader Zutacapan learned of the plans, a battle ensued, killing a dozen of Oñate’s men, including his nephew.

Oñate responded by exacting a massacre, leaving 800 dead, 300 of them women and children. Twenty-four men older than 25 had their right feet chopped off, and were enslaved for 20 years, along with many other Acoma, some as young as 12.

Jefferson Davis

In Richmond, Virginia and Minneapolis, MN, statues honoring the Confederate leader, Jefferson Davis, have finally been brought down. Many know about Davis’ history as president of the Confederacy: he lead a rebellion against his own country, owned hundreds of slaves, and fought to preserve his right to do so. He’s long been a target of protesters who have worked in city after city to have monuments built to this man taken down.

Junipero Serra

Credit: David Shmalz / Getty Images

Serra was active in the Spanish Inquisition and later led the first team of Spanish missionaries to California in 1769, which contributed to the killing and enslavement of thousands of native people and stripped many more of their cultural identity.

Part of dealing with current issues of systemic racism, many advocates have said, must include confronting the country’s colonial legacy of slavery and genocide. And it begins with symbols.

Symbols of Spanish colonialism can be found throughout California, largest among them the state’s 21 missions and the many statues dedicated to those who founded them.

Ulysses Grant

Credit: Michell Eberhart / Public Domain / Army.Gov

As president, Grant broke the KKK and fought for Black voting rights with a tenacity few other presidents have rivaled. 

But Grant’s legacy also has less admirable aspects. Grant’s wife had legal ownership of several Black people when he married her, and he himself kept a person in slavery for a year before freeing him at the start of the Civil War.

As president, Grant’s policy towards Native American people could easily be described as cultural genocide. He instigated an illegal and bloody war against the Lakota people of the Black Hills, and used federal force to push Native people onto reservations and to slaughter the buffalo they relied on for food. “American Indians experienced some of the worst massacres and grossest injustices in history while Ulysses S Grant was in office,” Alysa Landry writes at Indian Country Today

Francis Scott Key

Credit: Jose Barrios / Getty Images

Francis Scott Key, the author of America’s national anthem, not only personally enslaved people but also tried to silence the free speech of abolitionists, using his position as district attorney for Washington DC in the 1830s to launch high-profile cases attacking the abolitionist movement.

In San Francisco, protesters dragged the Key statue through the grass and were going to dump it in a nearby fountain, until they were told the fountain was a memorial to the Aids epidemic and stopped, a witness tweeted.

Theodore Roosevelt

Credit: Scott Heins / Getty Images

Theodore Roosevelt is often looked upon fondly by many Americans. He advocated for the preservation of America’s national parks and worked hard to ensure economic prosperity. But to others, the former President symbolizes colonial expansion and racial discrimination.

So, in New York, the American Museum of Natural History will remove a prominent statue of Theodore Roosevelt from its entrance.

“The American Museum of Natural History has asked to remove the Theodore Roosevelt statue because it explicitly depicts Black and Indigenous people as subjugated and racially inferior,” de Blasio said in a written statement. “The City supports the Museum’s request. It is the right decision and the right time to remove this problematic statue.”

Robert Byrd

Credit: White House.gov

Robert Byrd was the longest serving U.S. Senator. But before he kicked off his long political career, he wrote a letter decrying then-President Truman’s efforts to integrate the military. He’d rather see his country crumble, he wrote, than fight “with a negro by my side.”

Perhaps this isn’t surprising from a onetime exalted cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan. Even after he supposedly renounced the Klan, he filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and was the only senator who voted against the confirmations of the country’s two black Supreme Court justices, Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas.

In his later years, he referred to same-sex marriage as “aberrant behavior” and told an interviewer in 2001, “There are white n***ers. I’ve seen a lot of white n***ers in my time.”

Christoper Columbus

Ok, sure, we all know who Christoper Columbus is and the horrific acts that he committed against Indigenous Americans. But to many, he is still the founder of the “New World” and if often praised for the “discovery” of the Americas. His expeditions are all too often seen as a great triumph as they brought great wealth and riches to Spain and other European countries – through exploiting Indigenous people.

Thankfully, more recent histories of the adventurer have focused on the slave trade in the Americas and the imported European diseases which wiped out Indigenous peoples of the Caribbean region and American continents.

Historians have credited Columbus’ “discovery” of the Americas as the beginning of the slaughter of 3 million people – and his statue in North End Park in Boston, US, was decapitated on June 10.

Notice any needed corrections? Please email us at corrections@wearemitu.com

The Little-Known Underground Railroad That Ran South to Mexico

Culture

The Little-Known Underground Railroad That Ran South to Mexico

Tyrone Turner / Getty Images

Latinos make up the largest minority group in the country, yet our history is so frequently left out of classrooms. From Chicano communities in Texas and California to Latinos in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s and the Underground Railroad – which also had a route into Mexico – Latinos have helped shape and advance this country.

And as the U.S. is undergoing a racial reckoning around policing and systemic racism, Mexico’s route of the Underground Railroad is getting renewed attention – particularly because Mexico (for the very first time in history) has counted its Afro-Mexican population as its own category in this year’s census.

The Underground Railroad also ran south into Mexico and it’s getting renewed attention.

Most of us are familiar with stories of the Underground Railroad. It was a network of clandestine routes and safe houses established in the U.S. during the early to mid-19th century. It was used by enslaved African Americans to escape into free states and Canada. It grew steadily until the Civil War began, and by one estimate it was used by more than 100,000 enslaved people to escape bondage.

In a story reported on by the Associated Press, there is renewed interest in another route on the Underground Railroad, one that went south into Mexico. Bacha-Garza, a historian, dug into oral family histories and heard an unexpected story: ranches served as a stop on the Underground Railroad to Mexico. Across Texas and parts of Louisiana, Alabama, and Arkansas, scholars and preservation advocates are working to piece together the story of a largely forgotten part of American history: a network that helped thousands of Black slaves escape to Mexico.

According to Maria Hammack, a doctoral candidate at the University of Texas at Austin studying the passage of escapees who crossed the borderlands for sanctuary in Mexico, about 5,000 to 10,000 people broke free from bondage into the southern country. Currently, no reliable figures currently exist detailing how many left to Mexico, unlike the more prominent transit into Canada’s safe haven.

Mexico abolished slavery a generation before Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

Thirty-four years before Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, in 1829, Mexican President Vicente Guerrero, who was of mixed background, including African heritage, abolished slavery in the country. The measure freed an estimated 200,000 enslaved Africans Spain forcefully brought over into what was then called New Spain and would later open a pathway for Blacks seeking freedom in the Southern U.S.

And he did so while Texas was still part of the country, in part prompting white, slave-holding immigrants to fight for independence in the Texas Revolution. Once they formed the Republic of Texas in 1836, they made slavery legal again, and it continued to be legal when Texas joined the U.S. as a state in 1845.

With the north’s popular underground railroad out of reach for many on the southern margins, Mexico was a more plausible route to freedom for these men and women.

Just like with the northern route, helping people along the route was dangerous and could land you in serious trouble.

Credit: Library of Congress / Public Domain

Much like on the railway’s northern route into Canada, anyone caught helping African-Americans fleeing slavery faced serious and severe consequences.

Slaveholders were aware that people were escaping south, and attempted to get Mexico to sign a fugitive slave treaty that would, like the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 that demanded free states to return escapees, require Mexico to deliver those who had left. Mexico, however, refused to sign, contending that all enslaved people were free once they reached Mexican soil. Despite this, Hammock said that some Texans hired what was called “slave catchers” or “slave hunters” to illegally cross into the country, where they had no jurisdiction, to kidnap escapees.

“The organization that we know today as the Texas Rangers was born out of an organization of men that were slave hunters,” Hammack, who is currently researching how often these actions took place, told the AP. “They were bounty hunters trying to retrieve enslaved property that crossed the Rio Grande for slave owners and would get paid according to how far into Mexico the slaves were found.”

Notice any needed corrections? Please email us at corrections@wearemitu.com

Michelle Obama Recalled A Moment When Chicago Cops Accused Her Brother Of Stealing His Own Bike When He Was Just 10

Fierce

Michelle Obama Recalled A Moment When Chicago Cops Accused Her Brother Of Stealing His Own Bike When He Was Just 10

Paul Morigi / Getty

As most Black families in the United States know, growing up as a Black person is seen as a great threat in and of itself.

In a country where the rate of fatal police shootings among Black Americans is higher than that for any other ethnicity, it’s no wonder that this is true. Or, why learning to handle the police while Black is a lesson taught so prominently beneath the roofs of Black households.

In a recent episode of her podcast, Michelle Obama revealed that she and her brother Craig Robinson learned this lesson years ago in a confrontation with the police.

Speaking with her brother in her podcast, Obama recalled the day Robinson was accused of stealing his own bike.

Speaking with her brother, a former basketball coach, and her mother Marian Robinson about childhood and parenting, Obama brought up a moment in which Craig was stopped by a couple of police officers while riding his bike.

At the time, Robinson was about 10 or 11 years old and had been gifted the yellow ten-speed Goldblatt by his parents. While riding the bike, a police officer grabbed hold of it and refused to let go despite Craig’s pleas and protests that the bike was his.

“I was like ‘Oh, you got this all wrong, this is my bike. Don’t worry, this isn’t a stolen bike,’ and [the cop] would not believe me, and I was absolutely heartbroken. And I finally said to him, ‘Listen, you can take me to my house, and I will prove to you, this is my bike,” Robinson recalled.

Fortunately, Obama’s mother was home at the time and ushered Craig inside of the house, while she dealt with the police. As her son recalls, “she had that tight lip” as she confronted the officers who had accused her son of stealing his own bike.

Robinson revealed that she discovered the officers were friends with the people who had made the complaint about Craig stealing the bicycle and demanded they come to her house so that they could “admit [they] made a serious mistake.”

Robinson described the experience as a “heartbreaking” one at various times throughout the interview.

“I could tell [the cops] were trying to ask me questions that would trip me up,” he recalled. “If I wasn’t so sure that that bike was mine and showed any kind of reticence, I could see them taking me off to the police station, not calling mom until after I’ve been, you know, booked or whatever they do.”

At one point, Obama remarked that the story is particularly familiar with ones being experienced across the country, even today. “Nobody thinks about, you know, the fact that we all come from good families that are trying to teach values, but when you leave the safety of your home and go out into the street, where being Black is, is a crime in and of itself, we have all had to learn how to operate outside of our homes with a level of caution, and fear, because you never know,” she recalled

Obama’s mother also described the experience as being “part of a culture” among police.

“Because those two policemen were Black. And they were acting exactly the same as any other policeman,” her mother remarked. “It’s almost like, this is what they thought they were, how they were thought they were supposed to act.”

All three family members noted how the incident is so familiar today. Despite the fact that decades have passed. “That’s the perfect example of what all of these young, Black people are dealing with now, because this was, almost fifty years ago?” Craig Robinson said.

Listen to the clip from the podcast here.

Notice any needed corrections? Please email us at corrections@wearemitu.com