Monuments and statues are falling. But what comes next?
In this Nov. 24, 2019 photo, a sculpture of former slave and later abolitionist, writer Olaudah Equiano by London based artist Christy Symington, sits on display at the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, England, Britain. Activists and towns in the U.S. are left wondering what to do with empty spaces that once honored historic figures tied to racism as statues and monuments fell in June 2020. The Equiano image has been suggested as a replacement. Image via AP Photo/Russell Contreras

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Toppling of figures from pedestals could have lasting societal repercussions.

The dusty town of Tierra Amarilla perches in the shadows of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Here, five decades ago, this poor northern New Mexico community saw one of the most violent clashes in civil rights history when armed Mexican American ranchers raided a courthouse in a dispute over land grants. It shocked the nation and helped trigger the Chicano Movement.

Today, there’s almost nothing in town to honor this historic moment, except for graffiti art on an abandoned gas station and a sentence on a marker. There’s also almost no public art about the event anywhere.

As monuments and statues fall across the United States, activists and towns are left wondering what to do with empty spaces that once honored historic figures tied to Confederate generals and Spanish conquistadors. They also are debating how to remember civil rights figures and events in areas where they have been forgotten.

The opportunity to reimagine spaces has created a debate: whose history should the U.S. now honor and why? Should anything go on those empty podiums at all?

Some advocates say monuments to the late Rep. Barbara Jordan or Mexican American civil rights leader Dolores Huerta should replace the fallen statues. Others say World War II Marine Sgt. Miguel Trujillo Sr., a member of the Isleta Pueblo who sued to get Native Americans the right to vote in New Mexico, or former slave-turned-abolitionist Olaudah Equiano should have monuments erected in their honor. Christy Symington, a London-based sculptor, has already created an image of Equiano that some advocates say should be replicated in now empty spaces.

“I almost think the pedestals just need to be left there (empty),” said Rev. Rob W. Lee, a senior pastor of Unifour Church in Newton, North Carolina, and a descendant of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, who now speaks out against Confederate monuments.

Lee said he sees the toppling of Confederate statues with Black Lives Matter graffiti as a move to reclaim Black lives from white supremacy. “I think it’s quite beautiful,” Lee said. “Leave it like that.”

Brett Chapman, a Tulsa, Oklahoma, attorney and descendant of Standing Bear, a Ponca chief and civil rights leader, said he’d like to see the fallen statues replaced by largely unknown social justice advocates. “There are so many people we can honor that will show how we’ve overcome oppression,” Chapman said. “It’ll be a chance for us to learn and reflect.”

On Saturday, protesters in Baltimore pulled down a statue of Christopher Columbus and threw it into the city’s Inner Harbor. That followed other episodes of Confederate and Spanish colonial statues getting toppled last month by demonstrators or after officials ordered their removal.

It’s also lead to statues of Presidents George Washington and Ulysses S. Grant getting vandalized.

That has given some supporters of anti-racism protests pause. Cultural critic Thomas Chatterton Williams, the author of “Self-Portrait in Black and White,” said he understood the need to remove Confederate monuments but is uncomfortable with the vandalism of statues honoring the Founding Fathers and American Union Civil War figures.

“Mobs in the street tearing down Ulysses S. Grant statues is a really chilling sight,” Williams said. “We should understand the context (of history). But erasing these men from the public sphere seems like a bad road to go down to me.”

Vanessa Fonseca-Chávez, an assistant English professor at Arizona State University and author of the upcoming book “Colonial Legacies in Chicana/o Literature and Culture: Looking Through the Kaleidoscope,” said she can see the spaces honoring people who are not famous.

“What about the people who are living and breathing right now who made this place what it is today?” Fonseca-Chávez said. “Not a famous person. Just who we are. I think that could go a long way.”

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Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Associated Press


4 comments

  • Didi Hoffman

    July 8, 2020 at 10:04 am

    The sculptor of this work, Christy Symington, is an acquaintance and notable sculptor in England. So happy to see her work shared in Florida. Don’t forget, every sculpture has a sculptor (usually important to receive monumental commissions) who was hired, as an artist, to create the sculptures. Perhaps rather than destroy, some of the offending sculptures might be placed in museums for historical context for future generations.

  • martin

    July 8, 2020 at 3:47 pm

    When you vote in November, remember the liberal vision for America playing out every night on your TV screen; so called peaceful protest in the form of rioting, looting, robbing, burning down buildings, destroying monuments and businesses. Five decades of stagnation in America’s most marginalized places, all of it under Democratic—now “progressive”—political control.
    The failure of the liberal model is by now so embarrassing that the current owners of that model have created an alternative universe of explanations, such as blaming it on American settlers in the early 17th century, statues and monuments, police, or the nonexistence of “justice.
    Yes, When you vote in November, remember the liberal vision for America playing out every night on your TV screen each night.

  • Palmer Tom

    July 9, 2020 at 9:38 am

    The previous comment neglects to mention wage stagnation that has not allowed working people to keep up with inflation. The effort to keep wages down was a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican Party.
    The protests were borne of frustration. The vast majority were peaceful, but cherry-picking a handful of cases where criminals exploited the outrage to steal from or destroy private property is what gives the right some justification for its biases.
    Some of the statues were anachronisms.
    Ironically, Andrew Jackson who is reviled on the left and defended on the right, did one thing the left would approve of. That was his efforts to eliminate the measure that allowed only property owners to vote. He also took steps to curb banking practices that preyed on working people. He was a Democrat, by the way, and despite his well-deserved criticism for the Indian removal program, he is regarded by historians as one of the better presidents. It seems a lot of our better presidents were Democrats. Imagine that.

  • jon

    July 11, 2020 at 3:03 am

    People! That is how it works! They will go after people next…. I SAY BRING IT! READY!

Comments are closed.


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