Add to that the madness in Madison, Wis., where protesters removed and lake-dunked the statue of abolitionist and Union Col. Hans Christian Heg, an immigrant who died fighting to end slavery in America. (Oops.) They also took down the statue of a woman with her right arm raised, depicting the progressive philosophy for which she was named, “Forward.” (Double oops.)
They said their takedown was strategic, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.
Maybe in their own minds. To many other Americans, it looked like a tantrum and a gift to anyone unsold on their cause.
And the recipient of that gift — President Trump. He is now in on the spectacle, and no one knows spectacle better than the reality-show president. He is tweeting out his indignation in the name of old Pike, insisting that his statue be re-erected. He is calling in the National Guard to protect Andrew Jackson.
Sure, there is plenty of quarrel with the iconic statue to the slaveholder and Native American-slaughterer in Lafayette Square, the one that protesters tried unsuccessfully to topple.
And anyone who has ever walked a dog or ran with a child in Lincoln Park on Capitol Hill, as I’ve done for 20 years, is disturbed by the enslaved man on his knees at the feet of Abraham Lincoln depicted in the Emancipation Memorial statue there.
But are these really the pedestals the movement wants to die on?
There’s plenty out there that needs to be addressed to tackle the systemic racism in America — housing and education inequities, health disparities, and so much more. And then there are the smaller things that we don’t quite see, the monuments that don’t tower above but remain just as offensive if we really look.
It’s not as sexy as toppling a statue, but check out the subversive Confederate monument that residents of Arlington, Va., are fighting right now.
Lee Center is located on Lee Highway. It “encompasses Lee Community Center and Park, the Lee Senior Center, the Lee Arts Center, and the Lee Center Cooperative Playgroup,” said Dusty Horwitt, who went to Lee Center preschool when he was a tot.
How was this monument to the Confederacy woven into daily life?
The affair in Arlington that started it on an autumn night in 1926 was festive, with more than 200 people who came to hear state senators give speeches and to be delighted by dancers and musicians and the hottest act of the day — a duo known as Doe and Handy.
But it was the closing act of that celebration on Nov. 9, 1926, that made it clear why a Robert E. Lee School was established in Virginia, more than 60 years after Lee surrendered and the Civil War had ended.
A “large delegation of the Ku Klux Klan, who presented the school with a large American flag and a Bible,” filled the room, concluding the evening’s festivities, according to The Washington Post story on the opening.
Boom. This wasn’t in honor of a man. It wasn’t a memorial to lives lost. The Klan’s involvement made it clear that this was about codifying the idea of white supremacy.
That school eventually became an anchor for the community.
“The naming of the building in 1925 is consistent with a Southern-wide movement by whites to establish Confederate monuments to reassert white dominance,” wrote Horwitt, in a letter signed by more than a dozen others who are asking the Arlington County Board to change the name of the center.
“We urge you to choose a new name for Lee Center that better reflects Arlington’s commitment to equality, justice, and historical accuracy,” the letter said.
Horwitt’s research and advocacy on the Lee Center — he also helped champion the renaming of the high school where he played sports from Washington-Lee High School to Washington-Liberty High School — draws the straight line from Confederate idolatry to the subliminal way of expressing white supremacy.
It’s not always a big, pigeon-covered statue in a park that pays homage to the Confederacy. There are a couple generations of kids who grew up in a neighborhood called Stonewall Manor. (And some of them are working to change that.)
There’s Aunt Jemima, who finally retired last week after all those years of servitude.
Or military base names, like Fort Bragg, N.C., named for Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg.
Heritage and history have nothing to do with it.
But when the cathartic, toppling statuary go from being the time-tested signs of a revolution to narrowed understanding of history, protesters lose their argument and momentum.
There are plenty of bad guys to move from the spotlight to a museum. But maybe it’s time for the action to move beyond statues to knocking down the more insidious monuments to racism.
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