Since I was a little girl, I have been obsessed with World War II. I bought every book from every book fair and stalked every used book store and library sale to amass a gigantic collection on my bookshelves with everything about the war. Whether it was about Hitler's rise to power and the concentration camps, the Pacific campaign, Japanese internment camps, Churchill or Roosevelt, Anne Frank or other survivors, or the atomic bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki...I had to read it. I had to understand how it all happened. I wanted to know every single detail of that timeline. I traveled to Germany and visited 3 different concentration camps and personally made the sobering walk through the same gates at Auschwitz, Sachenhausen & Dachau that stated "Arbeit Macht Frei" (Work Sets You Free) that millions of Jews passed through before they died. I walked the grounds where they were starved to death, I sadly observed the remnants of the showers in which they were poisoned and I stood face-to-face with the ovens where they were burned to ash.
As I have watched the organized and mass destruction of American history over the course of the last 5 weeks, I have boiled. I have never been angrier in my life. Not because I'm a racist, not because I believe the south should have won the Civil War and not even because I think all the statues represent good people. I am angry because, although some of it is hideous and ugly, it is our history AS A NATION. It is a representation of a time to not be forgotten. If you believe the statues represent something negative or something with another side to tell, ADD to it. I will never condone an attempt to erase it, but I will fully support expansion of the story that should be told.
Sadly, I fear that the motivation behind the destruction has less to do with the conversation about race and more to do with rewriting history. I say this because the history behind and surrounding some of these statues doesn't match up with the "but muh feelings" messaging. I will give some highlights:
Theodore Roosevelt - At the Museum of History and with the blessing of the mayor, an iconic statue of our 26th President will be removed because "it symbolizes racism." Theodore Roosevelt became President because John McKinley was shot and killed. He was not an elected President and therefore felt "awkward" assuming the role. As a way to alleviate that, he hosted dinner parties to win people over. At one of the dinner parties, he invited his good friend Booker T. Washington............Who was black........And happened to be the first black ever invited to the White House. He faced massive amounts of backlash for doing so from the media and southern states. Also, after becoming President in 1901, he used his authority to establish the national park system. (150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, 4 national game preserves, five national parks and 18 national monuments on over 230 million acres of public land)
Matthias Baldwin - American inventor and manufacturer of steam locomotives. Eventually had one of the largest locomotive manufacturing companies in the country. He was a staunch abolitionist, defender of black men's right to vote and donated money to establish a school for black children in Philadelphia and paid the teachers' salaries out of his own pocket. His "sympathies" for black Americans resulted in a southern boycott of his engines prior to the Civil War. His statue was defaced with "colonizer" and "murderer."
John B. Castleman - A local guy to Louisville, KY whose statue is being removed by the city and relocated to a cemetery. He established Louisville's park system; specifically Cherokee, Shawnee, Iroquois & Central parks. He also sold 1/2 his estate to establish Tyler Park and refused to allow the segregation of the parks...Sadly, it happened 6 years after he died....But he's the racist.
Ulysses S. Grant - The 18th President of the United States and was the commanding general who led the UNION army to victory over the confederacy in the Civil War. His statue was toppled by protesters in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, CA.
Thomas Jefferson - Our 3rd President of the United States and was the PRINCIPLE AUTHOR OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE! He had one statue toppled in Portland, Oregon by protesters, one removed by the city in Decatur, AL and one removed by Hofstra University from their university museum.
Robert Gould Shaw & 54th Regiment Memorial - Defaced in downtown Boston, this is the memorial for the 1st all volunteer black regiment that fought to end the Civil War. It was a regiment made up of freed blacks and slaves who fled the south.
Emancipation Memorial (Freedmen's Monument) - The Boston Art Commission w/ full support of the mayor voted for removal of the replica in Boston and the original in Washington D.C. has withstood multiple attacks and attempts at removal by protesters. This statue was paid for by freed slaves and received a dedication by Frederick Douglas during the unveiling on April 14, 1876. The beginning of that oration, if people took the time to read it, was beautiful.
"Wise and thoughtful men of our race, who shall come after us, and study the lesson of our history in the United States; who shall survey the long and dreary spaces over which we have traveled; who shall count the links in the great chain of events by which we have reached our present position, will make a note of this occasion; they will think of it and speak of it with a sense of manly pride and complacency. I congratulate you, also, upon the very favorable circumstances in which we meet today. They are high, inspiring and uncommon. They lend grace, glory and significance to the object for which we have met. Nowhere else in this great country, with its uncounted towns and cities, unlimited wealth and immeasurable territory extending from sea to sea, could conditions be found more favorable to the success of this occasion than here. Few facts could better illustrate the vast and wonderful change which has taken place in our condition as a people than the fact of our assembling here for the purpose we have today. Harmless, beautiful, proper and praiseworthy as this demonstration is, I cannot forget that no such demonstration would have been tolerated here twenty years ago. The spirit of slavery and barbarism, which still lingers to blight and destroy in some dark and distant parts of our country, would have made our assembling here the signal and excuse for opening upon us all the flood-gates of wrath and violence. That we are here in peace today is a compliment and a credit to American civilization and a prophecy of still greater national enlightenment and progress in the future. I refer to the past not in malice, for this is no day for malice; but simply to place more distinctly in front of the gratifying and glorious change which has come both to our white fellow citizens and ourselves and to congratulate all upon the contrast between now and then; the new dispensation of freedom with its thousand blessings to both races, and the old dispensation of slavery with its ten thousand evils to both races - white and black. In view, then, of the past, the present and the future, with the long and dark history of our bondage behind us, and with liberty, progress and enlightenment before us, I again congratulate you upon this auspicious day and hour."
You can and should read the full oration here.
I opened with the context of my obsession with WWII for two reasons. The first being that Adolf Hitler raided all of Europe to procure every piece of "suitable" art he could for his Führermuseum, and attempted to destroy every statue, painting and book he didn't find suitable. It was as wrong then as it is now. The second being to dispel the argument that there are no statues or memorials representing Adolf Hitler. I would argue that I have personally walked through three of them and they very much represent the man he was and the atrocities he was capable of.
It should not be frowned upon or discouraged to have reminders of a painful history; it prevents us from repeating it. These reminders do not represent who we are today, they represent who we used to be and how far we have come. Who will be brave enough to preserve our history? The good and the bad.