Last week was Columbus Day. Two years ago, the statue of Christopher Columbus was removed from its prominent stand in Grant Park. Although Columbus was one of the European discoverers of our nation, his misdeeds overshadow his achievements.
That said, and I certainly hold no brief for Columbus’ behavior, haven’t many of our heroes had unacceptable flaws as well? For example, most of our early heroes, and the very authors of our Constitution, owned slaves. Should we remove their statues, too? Deciding what behaviors are inappropriate, and who decides, is a messy slippery slope. At other times in history these issues might very well be judged differently.
As the years pass, I am sure there are other once-praised folks who will be identified as having made serious mistakes or committed objectionable acts. Today’s heroes may be tomorrow’s undesirable characters. If some Trump Republicans erected a statue of him in one of our parks, would I object? Yes, but those who support Trump would disagree with me.
So if we were to remove these sculptures, what should we do with them? What effect would their removal have on history as we know it? And how can this dilemma be resolved? Here are my suggestions:
1) Remove all statues from publicly held land.
2) Establish a banished heroes museum for display of all the sculptures that are removed.
3) Include a short, written history explaining each of the accomplishments of each tainted hero, along with the behavior that caused the blemishing of their reputation.
4) Replace the statue bases with sculpted stone images of sections from our Constitution. It would serve as a public learning opportunity and a tribute to the Constitution, the guide for our democracy.
5) Adding further value to my suggestions is the cost-savings that would result from no longer redesigning statues or constructing new ones.
I am audacious enough to send my recommendations to the Chicago Park District for their consideration. Often, worthwhile ideas come from unexpected sources. If I receive an answer, I’ll let you, my Wednesday Journal friends, know.
Harriet Hausman is a longtime member of the ACLU and a resident of River Forest.