By Raymond A. Schroth
When I taught at St. Peter’s College in Jersey City, I would take long bike rides, just looking for surprises and getting the feel of the neighborhoods. I love statues that both educate the public and re-enforce values that strengthen the community.
A major discovery was a mysterious statue of a dead young man next to the front door of a public high school..
He was a soldier, but his shirt was gone and his pants were shredded. He leans back against the trunk of a tree, head tilted, mouth open, eyes closed, while his left arm dangles and he holds his right across his bare stomach. Around his waist, an ammunition belt.
The brass dedication plaques are probably stolen by vandals who will sell the metal. No citation from an alderman, mayor, or congressman tells us what the statue means. In what war and for what cause did he die? Where is the eulogy embedded in bronze: “We shall never forget our eternal debt to Private (unknown) whom we memorialize today?”
Statues are meant to inspire. But recently a flood of news stories argue that certain statues have become controversial and should be destroyed.
The biggest fights focus on Robert E. Lee and Christopher Columbus. Both are popular heroes, but now charged with racism.
Robert E. Lee both owned slaves and is a “traitor” in that in the Civil War, which was caused by slavery, he was loyal to Virginia, not to the United States. Journalists Jason Berry of New Orleans and Paul Moses explain that the Civil War statues did not grow out of the war itself but were part of a later 19th-early 20th century movement arguing that the war was not about slavery but a “lost cause” battle for their way of life. It was a time when schools were re-segregated and blacks assassinated and de-franchised.
Explaining why he took down Lee, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu asked how African-American parents can explain to their 5th grade daughter whether the statue of Lee was “there to encourage her.”
In September alone vandals attacked four statues of Christopher Columbus in New York. In response Mayor Bill DeBlasio appointed a committee to evaluate the city’s statues: How many, if any, should go. The main target is the towering 76-foot monument at Columbus Circle, erected in 1892 on the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of the Americas. Recent celebrations have raised issues of his brutal treatment of Native Americans. In short he is held responsible for today’s racial discrimination.
A priest testified in a 16th century investigation that Columbus permitted Indians to be taken as slaves to be bought and sold rather than be baptized, and attractive boys and girls were made slaves rather than converted. All Indians on the island, said Columbus, belonged to him. They were no longer…