As America evolves, so should our monuments

Study shows that our statuary landscape is a poor representation of our accomplishments.

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Editorials

October 11, 2021 - 8:06 AM

A new marble statue depicting Mary McLeod Bethune has recently been completed and will be installed in the U.S. Capitol sometime in the next six months. Bethune served in the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt as director of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration.In 1945, she was appointed by President Harry Truman at the founding conference of the United Nations. Bethune’s statue will replace that of Kirby Smith, a fellow Floridian, who was a Confederate general. TNS PHOTO

Last summer’s wave of statue removals across America may have felt transformative, but it didn’t significantly alter America’s statuary landscape: The almost 50,000 monuments that remain in place around the nation overwhelmingly depict white males — including, across the South, avowed enemies of the United States — while largely ignoring the contributions of Black Americans, women and others.

That’s according to a new study of U.S. monuments that strengthens the argument for reconsidering many of these statues. But it’s a process that should have some standards to it beyond the remove-anything-that-makes-anyone-angry dynamic too often in play lately.

Communities have been sporadically rethinking their monuments for years, but last year’s murder of George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer, and the resulting racial reckoning across America, gave the issue new focus. It is against that backdrop that the Philadelphia-based Monument Lab, made up of curators, artists and others, has released its “National Monument Audit,” quantifying who gets immortalized for what.

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