Racist Statues Belong in Museums, not Storage, to Force Us to Face HistoryRoundup
tags: racism, statues, historical memory, public history
Jonathan Zimmerman teaches education and history at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the of The Amateur Hour: A History of College Teaching in America, which will be published in the fall by Johns Hopkins University Press.
In 2017, New Orleans took down a monument commemorating a white uprising in 1874 against the racial integration of the city’s government. Two years after that battle, a contested presidential election led to the removal of troops from the South and the restoration of unbridled white domination. “The national election of November 1876 recognized white supremacy in the South,” a plaque affixed to the monument in 1932 declared, “and gave us our state.”
The monument was hidden away in storage, where nobody could see it. How is that a victory in the battle to recognize and uproot white supremacy?
It isn’t. As racist memorials come down, we need to preserve them in museums and other public places that teach us about the hateful dimensions of our history. Anything less will whitewash racism, all in the guise of rebutting it.
Consider the recent removal of the statue of former Philadelphia Mayor and Police Chief Frank Rizzo, who led brutal assaults on African American and LGBTQ citizens. The Rizzo statue was a standing rebuke to these victims and to anyone who cares about equality and fairness under the law. In the wake of the George Floyd murder, it had to go.
But go where? The city announced it will be placed in — you guessed it — storage, until a plan is developed to donate or relocate it. Reportedly, Rizzo’s family is hoping to reclaim it themselves.
No. A thousand times no. All of us in Philadelphia own that statue, along with the painful history that attaches to it. Instead of hiding it — or giving it away — we should display it in a museum or outdoor garden, along with explanations of why the statue went up and why it came down.
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