Always the one reading the plaques at museums, and frustrating my companions who are on a mission to complete the expedition rather than soak in every detail about fewer exhibits, I am concerned about the recent attack on statues.
How can we learn our history if we remove items that are meant to stand through time and remind us of our past? Yes, the past includes good and evil. A weapon to combat evil is knowledge. If we erase that knowledge, we make ourselves weaker.
Back in January, before statues became so controversial I began researching and writing about statues that had stirred my curiosity. It was a project I had thought about for years. When I visited Washington D.C. about a decade ago I came across so many statues that I wanted to know more about. I wondered who and what had inspired the subjects chiseled from marble, cast in bronze, or created from some other material.
There are two statues representing each state in National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol. When I first learned about this statue collection, I was curious. Most of the subjects of these statues I knew little, or nothing about. I wanted to know more about who inspired the statue. Why should we remember these individuals and their accomplishments? I decided to start a series of posts in a blog series and share what I discovered. I hoped to spark curiosity in others, that would lead to a greater knowledge of our history.
Lately, it seems statues have become a topic to stay away from. Mention statue, and images of angry groups aiming to destroy them are conjured. The first to come under assault were statues representing the Confederacy. However, the attacks quickly moved to targets that represented the opposite of what was offensive to the assailants.
A victim of the misplaced outrage, was a statue in Atlanta. Self-proclaimed justice warriors, dressed in black, under the cover of darkness with their faces masked, sprayed the object of their contempt that stood in Piedmont Park in August. They attempted to tear it down using a chain, but luckily knowledge and reason prevailed. An Atlanta police official stood in front of the monument and demanded the chain be released. He explained that not only was it against the law to destroy and deface the statue, but the statue was in fact a monument that symbolized the reconciliation between the North and South after the Civil War. The Peace Monument features an angel standing above a Confederate soldier, urging him to lay down his weapon. The angel held an olive branch…sadly, it was broken during the raid.
Just a few weeks ago, a statue of Francis Scott Key, author of the poem “The Defense of Fort McHenry” written during the War of 1812 that would later become our national anthem, was a target of rage. “Racist Anthem” was spray painted by the vandals, and red paint was splashed on the monument. The statue of Thomas Jefferson at the University of Virginia, which Jefferson founded, was covered with a black shroud.
When will this “purging” stop? If we do not halt it now, I believe we are in danger of losing much of our history. Already there are efforts underway to remove Columbus Day. Los Angeles just changed “Columbus Day”, to “Indigenous Peoples’ Day”. Why not have both?
Christopher Columbus was by no means a saint. But, if only saints are deserving of statues, there will be few allowed to remain. By the way, even saints are not safe from the statue-police. Recently a statue of Junipero Serra at the Old Santa Barbara Mission, was beheaded and doused in red paint. Father Serra had established nine California missions, among them San Francisco and San Diego. Pope Francis canonized Junipero Serra in 2015. However, sainthood for Junipero did not come without controversy. While some were overjoyed at the declaration of sainthood for the Spanish missionary, others felt Junipero had been part of Spanish imperialism and was not worthy of sainthood.
Freedom is the right to disagree with each other. We must remember that more speech is indicative of a free society, not less speech. Free speech does not mean only speech we agree with. The speech that the majority disagrees with, is the speech that it is essential to protect.
The freedom to erect statues is part of freedom of speech. Speech we do not like, is not violence, as many who wish to limit certain speech claim. Speech is not violence. Speech is actually a shield against tyranny.
Diana Erbio is a freelance writer and author of “Coming to America: A Girl Struggles to Find her Way in a New World”. Read her new blog series “Statues: The People They Salute” and visit the Facebook Page.