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
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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 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.”
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.
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