Public statues: Up or down? But does the historical importance of the individuals represented matter? | An Alternative View | Diana Diamond | Palo Alto Online |

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By Diana Diamond

Public statues: Up or down? But does the historical importance of the individuals represented matter?

Uploaded: Jun 30, 2020

The removal of public statues throughout our country, by supporters of Black Lives Matter and many others, is a growing concern, because what started as a very valid cause now seems to be turning into arbitrary removals of statues of individuals – blanket indictments of people on a single standard without knowing about all their other contributions to society.

It’s become a purity test, in a sense – if certain statues don’t meet your/my criteria for racial equality and representing a person Americans should honor today, then those statues must be torn down. Right now.

This “purity test” comes in many forms – whether it’s names of buildings or the tearing down of statues or removing men from jobs because of sexual improprieties -- the condemnation continues.

It first emerged for me in Palo Alto in 2017 when a parent, Lars Johnsson, and his son, were upset because of the names of two junior highs schools in town, one of which his son was attending. Jordan, named after David Starr Jordan, a prominent scholar who was the first president of Stanford University, while Terman Middle School was named after Lewis Terman, a Stanford psychologist who created a prominent IQ test, among many other scientific contributions. Both men were participants in the eugenics movement in the 20th century, that believed in the superiority of particular races over others, which advocated, among other things, sterilization of certain races to produce a smarter society.

The unanimous decision of the school board in 2017 to get rid of the names of these two men disturbed me, because as despiteful and dreadful as I think the eugenics movement was, the anger directed toward anyone who was a eugenicist totally discarded any other contributions of these two renowned men.

Back in early 20th century, both socialism and communism became intellectual fads, which some of the intelligentsia mentally played around with for a while, with socialism fading in and out of relevance over the years. Interest in eugenics also caused a stir for a while, primarily involving bright young men, but eugenics faded away at the outset of World War II.

A similar vilification of individuals happened with the recent “Me Too” movement who were responsible for the firing of so many men in our society accused of sexual misconduct. One unwanted sexual overture and out a man must go. The women were adamant sexual overtures must be punished and those guilty must be fired. Another purity test. The most unfortunate attack for me was against Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), whose female accuser charged him of alleged misconduct 11 years earlier.

Now we are having a similar set of purity actions resulting in statues being town down by crowds of people – sometimes only looking to see how racist an individual was. We are imposing today’s beliefs on views and lifestyles people had years ago, and those views are not meeting our purity test.

Let me say at the outset that the statues of people like Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis absolutely should be removed, because they worked hard to divide our country. And other confederate generals’ statues should also be taken away from public view, perhaps put in rear museum rooms. They are not American heroes. And statues of people like Adolf Hitler or Benito Mussolini have no place in our country.

Christopher Columbus has been attacked because of what he did to the native Indian population when he came to America. Although Columbus never set foot on what is the continental U.S. today, his crews and later arrivals took over. Columbus statues have been torn down or removed, even in San Jose, and now some people are clamoring to rename the city of Columbus, Ohio.

George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are being criticized because they were slaveholders, as were most Southerner in those early days. So now, some say, their statues also must go. Yet both men helped establlsh America as a democracy, while they organized a government based on freedom and equality and democratic principles that have carried us through two-and-a-half centuries.

A statue of President Teddy Roosevelt has come down from the outside of the American Museum of Natural History in NYC, because it shows him on a horse with a black man and a Native American walking at his side. The sculptor said they represented the men who were guiding him along the way, but protesters say no, it showed Teddy and white superiority. Yet Roosevelt was an avowed racist and busted trusts.

There is a statue of Lincoln with a black man on his knee in front of the president. Critics say that only shows white superiority and must go. The sculptor said the black man is on one knee and ready to stand up, because Lincoln freed the slaves and the figures represent rising to equality.

A statue in Madison, WI. of Hans Christian Heg, an ardent abolitionist was pulled down, although he fought to make the U.S. a united union. Not sure why Heg is gone.

It’s perceptions we are having a problem with. Two people can have totally different thoughts about what a statue represents, which is fine, but before removals occur, we should and must look historically at the individuals and why they were important. We should not erase our nation’s history because our views have changed from those of earlier Americans.