September 2017Campaigns

Get Rid of These DC Monuments -- Now

The deadly neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville originated as a protest against plans to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from a city park.  While that statue (as of this writing) still stands -- albeit now draped in a shroud of mourning -- the violence perpetrated by the right-wing marchers has backfired on them.  The events of August 12 only fueled the drive to remove monuments to Confederate figures across the country, much as the 2015 massacre in an African American church in Charleston, SC led to the removal of the Confederate flag not only from the South Carolina statehouse but many venues across the South as well.

Scarcely had the dust settled in Charlottesville when the city government of Baltimore removed four offending statues: monuments to Lee and "Stonewall" Jackson, a "Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument," and a monument to Maryland native Roger Taney, who as chief justice of the Supreme Court in 1857 penned the infamous Dred Scott decision stating that African Americans are not entitled to US citizenship.  A second statue of Taney, this one outside the Maryland statehouse in Annapolis, was removed on August 18.  There had been a growing campaign to banish the Annapolis monument, and former NCAA President Benjamin Jealous, a Democratic candidate for governor of Maryland, had made removing it a prominent plank of his campaign.  It looked like it would take a prolonged campaign to oust Taney until Charlottesville shifted public opinion and Larry Hogan, the state's Republican governor, reversed his previous position and supported the takedown.

The Rebels continued to fall, with Duke University removing a statue of Lee after it was vandalized, and the University of Texas taking down four statues, including one of Lee.

As a recent article in the New York Times notes, monuments to Confederates or prominent racists have been removed or are subjects of campaigns for removal all across the country -- mostly in the South (such as the recent removal of four monuments in New Orleans) but some in unlikely places such as Boston, Brooklyn and Los Angeles.  Even in Richmond, Va., where monuments to Confederate figures are a prominent part of the city's landscape, the aftermath of Charlottesville has made removal of its statues a live issue.  With approximately 700 monuments to the Confederacy standing across the country, there's a lot of offensive statuary to dispose of.

While the removal of racist monuments is on the agenda, we need look no further than in our own backyard for examples of memorials that should never have been erected in the first place – and not all of them dedicated to Confederates.  Here are a few of the monuments in the District of Columbia that should be toppled right now:

 Albert Pike Statue, Judiciary Square (3rd and D Sts. NW) -- Efforts to remove this statue, the only open-air monument in DC to a Confederate officer, date back to at least 1993 when the DC Council was unsuccessful in having the federal government, on whose land it sits, pull it down.  Pike, a Massachusetts native, moved to Arkansas where he became a vocal advocate of slavery and, as a member of the "Know-Nothing Party," an opponent of immigration.  His service in the US Army in the Mexican War and as a general in the Confederate Army both ended badly due to a tendency to ignore orders from superiors; in both conflicts he was retired to civilian life before the wars ended.  The Judiciary Square monument was erected by the Masons, of which he was a leader both before and after the Civil War.  There have been claims, which are doubted by some historians, that Pike was involved with the Ku Klux Klan after the war.  But even without this connection, his participation in the Confederate army and his vocal support for slavery are sufficient cause for toppling this offensive statue.  The DC Council and local activists have revived the effort to remove the statue.

Columbus Monument, Columbus Circle (Massachusetts Ave. NE in front of Union Station) -- Everyone is familiar with Christopher Columbus' role in launching the European colonization of the New World and his genocidal campaigns against Native Americans.  A monument to one of history's most malignant figures doesn't deserve to be in such a prominent location, or anywhere else for that matter. New York City could set the example, as it is considering removing its own statue of the reviled conquistador at Columbus Circle (which likely would be renamed).

Andrew Jackson Monument, Lafayette Square -- The problem with this monument is its prominence as much as the subject's sins.  It sits right in the middle of Lafayette Square, directly between the southern terminus of 16th St. and the front door of the White House, and has been included in countless tourists' photos.  Jackson doesn't deserve such a place of honor.  Not only was he a slaveowner, but he was a major force behind removal of Native Americans from the eastern United States.  As president, his campaign to force Native tribes from their ancestral homes ended with the Trail of Tears, the westward forced march during which an estimated 4,000 died.  His image on the twenty-dollar bill is in the process of being moved to a less-visible position, and his Lafayette Square statue should be dealt with similarly.  Perhaps Blue Plains has room for it.

George Preston Marshall Monument, RFK Stadium -- In the June Washington Socialist I spotlighted this obscure granite slab and the campaign to remove it.  Marshall, the founder of Washington's professional football franchise, not only gave the team its widely condemned racist nickname, but also was a notorious segregationist -- he kept the team all-white until 1962, and integrated it only under pressure from the Kennedy Administration.  Crumbling RFK stadium is slated to be demolished after the DC United soccer team moves out next near, and it would be timely and appropriate for the Marshall monument to meet the same fate.

Confederate Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery -- This massive 32-foot-tall monument is actually in Virginia, not DC, and to try and identify all Confederate statues in that state would be a time-consuming project.  But this monument sits on federal land, and in a cemetery dedicated to those who served the United States -- not its enemies.  The monument was placed in the cemetery in 1914 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, but as a Washington Post article reported, ancestors of Confederate generals and even those of the sculptor himself have joined those advocating it be removed.

All Confederate Statues in the US Capitol -- There are 10 statues in the Capitol's Statuary Hall depicting Confederate officers or government officials.  They were selected by the states, but legislation to remove them is in the works.  The sooner they are gone the better.

Someday the conversation could move to whether there should be any monuments to slaveholders at all, but the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial aren't coming down anytime soon.  But the other monuments mentioned here are the low-hanging fruit.  They need to go, and the sooner the better.

 

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