On August 12, 2017, a crowd of proud white supremacists and staunch neo-Nazis stormed the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia in a violent effort to preserve a town statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The event, mortifying on a global scale, launched a vehement country-wide push to remove sculptures and monuments praising the Confederacy.
On August 16, Mayor Bill de Blasio subsequently announced a “90-day review of all symbols of hate on city property” via Twitter. The initiative emerged in the midst of simultaneous campaigns to change New York City street names bearing reference to Confederate figures.
“The time has come for the Army to remove from Fort Hamilton and other military installations the disgraced names of men who waged war against the United States to preserve the evil institution of slavery,” Patrick Rheaume, spokesman for Brooklyn Representative Yvette Clarke, told Hyperallergic.
While peripheral in nature, monuments, plaques, and street names bear more influence than we may realize. “It is clear that these symbols remain an inspiration to some who espouse white supremacist ideology to perpetuate acts of terror and violence on the peaceful, law-abiding citizens of our nation,” Rheaume continued.
According to Hyperallergic, Mayor Bill de Blasio has already announced plans to remove a plaque honoring Nazi sympathizer Philippe Pétain; Bronx Community College will send two busts of Confederate generals to a military museum in Saratoga Springs; and the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island has overseen the removal of two Fort Hamilton-based plaques commemorating Robert E. Lee.
Artnet News reported that the Museum of the City of New York had also issued a statement pushing for the removal of an East Harlem statue commemorating J. Marion Sims. Credited as the father of gynecology, Sims was known to perform horrifying experimental surgeries on enslaved women—without their consent, needless to say.
In the midst of it all, President Trump made himself less popular than ever when he Tweeted: “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments…” In a separate tweet, he wrote: “The beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!”
These plaques, monuments, and busts will be systematically reviewed over the next three months. As for their fate, many argue against their destruction; rather, let them exist in the dark corners of museums where they can be seen in a purely historical context, stripped of the glory they’ve wrongfully basked in for far too long.