The week after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville turned deadly and citizens and cities around the country began to take down their Confederate monuments, I argued that we needed not just to empty those pedestals but also to find a new, affirmatively positive vision of America to replace them. And so I asked: Whom would you like to see honored in place of people such as Robert E. Lee, who fought against the Union in defense of slavery? Your ideas were so wonderful that I wanted to share the best of them with everyone, and Washington Post cartoonist Ann Telnaes drew some mockups. So here are 22 Americans and groups of Americans who deserved to be recognized with statues and monuments across the land, and the cases you made for them. These submissions have been edited for clarity and accuracy.
My grandfather (a stonecutter from Axis Italy) dug coal for the war effort and later was an Alexandria city employee. Everyone we knew in Alexandria’s Del Ray neighborhood was a working-class person whose family had immigrated to the United States. Irish, Italian, German, African, Russian (like my wife) — many came to the United States to make a better life not only for themselves but also for others. Immigrants help build the country and add substance to the community. We should honor more of them.
–Robert Halcombe, Aldie, Va.
2. The Women Airforce Service Pilots:
I would like more recognition for the women who served as WASPs during World War II, quite a few of whom gave their lives in fulfilling their vital mission. In addition, these women had more flying experience in a wider variety of aircraft than their male counterparts. The United States has belatedly recognized their skill and contribution to the war effort, but it’s time to give them a prominent memorial.
–Claudia Kasvin, Cincinnati
3-5. Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald, musicians:
Louis Armstrong, more than any other individual, shaped the development of America’s indigenous classical music: jazz. His achievements, in turn, have influenced other forms of popular American music. He is worthy of statues anywhere. Duke Ellington is America’s greatest composer, publishing hundreds of our greatest songs and longer-form compositions. He was the leader of a brilliant aggregation of American musicians, who performed his work and other American songs for several decades. He is worthy of statues anywhere music is celebrated. Ella Fitzgerald is America’s first lady of song. She rose from poverty to become an unmistakable voice in jazz and popular music, capable of not only singing beautifully but also improvising brilliantly, and leading her own jazz orchestra while still a young woman.
–Neal Snyder, San Leandro, Calif.
6. Clara Barton, humanitarian:
I’d like to see a monument to Clara Barton in Washington. A true hero of the Civil War, Barton was on hand to nurse victims of the war’s first bloodshed, and throughout the war traveled to wherever she was needed, providing care to Union and Confederate soldiers. After the war, she ran the Missing Soldiers Office, finding and identifying soldiers (again on both sides) who were missing or unidentified. And as if that weren’t enough, she then went on to found the American Red Cross. There are a couple of monuments to her (notably at Antietam battlefield and Andersonville National Historic Site in Georgia), and her home in Glen Echo is a national historic site, but her achievements should be recognized in public spaces in more cities and towns.
–Sarah Angerer, Catonsville, Md.
7. Jerry Brown, politician:
Jerry Brown was a two-term California governor in the 1970s and ’80s and is serving a second two-term stint today. He also served as mayor of Oakland, Calif., and the state’s attorney general. Known as “Governor Moonbeam” in the ’70s for his ideas on pursuing state-sponsored space exploration, he was also known for telling Californians to “lower your expectations,” because he knew we couldn’t count on having unlimited resources. Thus, he has continued to lead us in lowering our state’s output of carbon emissions. He has spent a lifetime in public service. I haven’t always been a fan, and I sometimes disagree with him, but he’s as close to being a hero as anyone in my home city and state.
–Harriet Buchanan, Sacramento
8. Rachel Carson, author of “Silent Spring”:
Rachel Carson deserves monuments because she was one of the first Americans to publicize the impact of humans on the environment.
–Joyce Kiyohara, Antioch, Ill.
9. Cornelius Charlton, Medal of Honor winner:
I find it profoundly disturbing that the Army’s biggest bases are named for Confederate generals. I would propose renaming Fort Benning in Georgia for Cornelius Charlton, who received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Korean War. Even though the military had been desegregated in 1948, there remained a few all-black regiments in Korea. Charlton served in the 24th Infantry Regiment, an all-black unit, and was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously by President Harry S. Truman. He was one of the last two Medal of Honor winners to serve in a segregated unit.
–Richard Morgan, West New York, N.J.
10. Cesar Chavez, farmworkers’ advocate:
There should be more monuments for Cesar Chavez or campesinos honoring humble, honest labor.
–Ricardo del Rio, San Diego
11. Shirley Chisholm, former congresswoman:
Honor Shirley Chisholm, who had the courage to run for president as a black woman at a time when neither women nor blacks in general were taken seriously in politics. She was also the first black woman elected to Congress and was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She visited George Wallace in the hospital after he was shot in 1972. That’s the kind of courage and compassion we need to honor!
–Kris Stadelman, Sunnyvale, Calif.
12. John Glenn, astronaut and public servant:
John Glenn, who was brave, decent and heroic and who served the nation in the military and in the Senate.
–Denise Mills, Buffalo
13. Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger:
Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, who announced the emancipation and end of slavery in Texas, on June 19, 1865, in Galveston. June 19 is now celebrated each year as Juneteenth.
–Anne Wilburn, Houston
14. Lyndon Johnson, president:
Lyndon Johnson: the president who was there when the civil rights movement came alive and basic civil rights laws were enacted. He would be a great replacement for all those old Confederate heroes.
–Jim Stahl, Cleveland
15. Scott Joplin, musician:
I’d like to see statues for artists, writers, musicians, scientists and others who have contributed to America. When I was in Italy, I was impressed by the fact that their statues were not just of politicians. How about, for example, Scott Joplin, who contributed to America a new kind of music — ragtime! It isn’t that politicians haven’t contributed; it’s just that we need to include other kinds of contributions, too.
–Lauren Hehmeyer, Texarkana, Tex.
16. Newton Knight, Southern Unionist:
Newton Knight should be honored in his home county of Jones County, Miss. He was very much ahead of his time and a patriot to the United States. He fought against the Confederacy and he instituted a multi-racial community. He also tried to defeat the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups but failed. He is a true American hero.
–Eric Koszyk, Portland
17. Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts:
Juliette Gordon Low has empowered millions of girls and women such as my grandmother, a Girl Scout starting in the 1910s, who went on to protest for women’s suffrage, to work on Ellis Island in 1918 and to travel the world with her girlfriends throughout the 1920s before marrying my grandfather in 1934. She worked summers at a Girl Scout camp in New York into her 60s and volunteered at the Red Cross into her 90s. Thanks, JGL, for your early inspiration of one of my greatest role models.
–Robin Diamond, Washington, D.C.
18. Madge Oberholtzer, literacy advocate and anti-Klan whistleblower:
In 1925, her rape and murder at the hands of Indiana Klan Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson ultimately led to a tremendous weakening of the Ku Klux Klan’s power in the United States. Before dying, she gave testimony against Stephenson that caused thousands of members of Klan lodges to quit the organization. It also broke the stranglehold the Klan had on Indiana’s politicians, from the governor on down.
–Meghan Smith, Indianapolis
19. J. Robert Oppenheimer, scientist:
Physicist who helped build the first atom bombs and then became the conscience of modern science. He was crucified by the right-wing bigotry pushed by Sen. Joseph McCarthy.
–Peter Zimmerman, Great Falls
20. Jesse Owens, Olympian:
This suggestion is for Chicago, where I grew up: Jesse Owens, who moved his family to Chicago in the 1940s and whose daughters still live there. He was the embodiment of a hero, and despite all the acclaim he received for his performance at the Berlin Olympics, he was a victim of discrimination for much of his adult life. Nonetheless, he remained a class individual and a great role model to many the children, black and white (including me), whom he spoke to in schools around the Chicago area in the 1960s.
–Joe Alper, Denver
21. Mark Twain:
Mark Twain was a phenomenal writer and very honorable, even paying all his creditors in full after bankruptcy, which occurred because he was also what we would today call a venture capitalist. He loved science. And it is most fitting that he was born with Halley’s Comet and died with it. So put a comet on the statue, too.
–Raelynn Manitz, Fairfax
22. Ida B. Wells, journalist and anti-lynching advocate:
Not a difficult case to make.
–Mark Scarbecz, Memphis