In recent weeks, in the wake of the heartbreaking death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, along with other tragic deaths of African Americans, radical left-wing mobs have engaged in a rampaging campaign of either vandalizing, or toppling, statues and monuments tied to American history.
Or, if they are not successful in toppling or defacing a statue, they are using pressure to force cowering public officials to erase the memories of those who founded America or played important roles in our shared history.
What is astounding, and particularly disturbing, is the mob warfare against our past has gone far beyond the symbols of the old Confederacy – targeted because of its tie to the sin of slavery – and now been extended to those who historically stood against injustice. It seems the mob – which is illiterate of American history either because it is not taught or is taught with deliberate disinformation – has no idea of whose statues they are destroying or why they are destroying them.
Rioters in California toppled a statue of General Ulysses S. Grant, the military leader who led the northern victory in the American Civil War, freeing the slaves. Even more ironically, Grant led the reconstruction efforts after the war to provide and protect civil rights, such as the right to vote, for those who were enjoying their first taste of freedom. He also signed legislation to clamp down on racist terrorism in the South. At his funeral, he was eulogized by Frederick Douglass. But since Grant had been “gifted” a slave, whom he quickly freed because he found slavery to be repugnant, Grant is now considered guilty until proven innocent.
Others whose statues were vandalized or toppled are Francis Scott Key, the writer of the Star Spangled Banner and Father Junipero Serra, who founded the California missions in the mid-1700s. And of course, statues of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt have been targeted across the country by vandals or “politically correct” public officials, who probably want to take a sandblaster to Mt. Rushmore next.
Perhaps most egregiously, vandals defaced the statue of Winston Churchill in London on D-Day, conveniently forgetting that he was one the leaders of the Allied victory to stop the ultimate civil rights violation – the slaughter of six million Jews by Adolf Hitler. Protestors also damaged a statue of Matthias Baldwin in Philadelphia, who fought for the abolition of slavery, founded a school for African American children, and advocated for African Americans to have the right to vote in the early 1800s, well before the Civil War. In Boston, the monument commemorating the 54th Regiment, the first volunteer all-African American Civil War regiment commanded by Robert Gould Shaw, who fought for the equal treatment of African American troops, was vandalized. Finally, monuments and memorials to those who died in the American Revolution, World War I, and World War II, have been vandalized and numerous churches and synagogues have been desecrated.
Succumbing to pressure, the New York Museum of National History announced plans to remove a statue of Theodore Roosevelt, because it depicted him sitting on a horse with a Native American and African American on either side. In Boston, the mayor is considering the removal of a statue of Abraham Lincoln standing behind a kneeling freed slave.
I am a Lincoln man and a Christian who believes that all people are made in the image of God –Imago Dei – and deserve the utmost dignity and respect. Slavery was America’s original sin, and its stain continues to impact our nation more than 150 years since the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by Abraham Lincoln and the North was victorious in the Civil War. This dismantlement of history is a dangerous omen for the rest of society. It only divides us even more. It has been said, “Nothing has meaning without context” and if that context is removed – even if that context may be offensive to some — America no longer has any meaning. And an America without meaning is an America with nothing in common to keep it together. Thus, the dismantling and destruction of statues and monuments we are witnessing is symbolic of the dismantling of our nation that we will continue to experience daily if this movement continues unabated.
And if that continues, we will have truly become, as Lincoln said, in his famous 1858 speech before the Republican state convention quoting Jesus Christ in Mark 3:25, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” That would be a tragedy for all humankind, far beyond any transgressions from the past. We cannot stand idly by and watch our nation, and what it represents, be toppled one statue or monument at a time. It is time for good people – regardless of political persuasion – to say enough to this destruction of our nation’s history and heritage.