The turmoil generated over removal of Civil War memorabilia has evolved into a tsunami of self-flagellation. “It’s in our DNA.” “It’s part of our history.” “We are a violent people.” This may be true in text, but it is false in context.
Yes, in text, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and Judge Roger Taney were — in today’s terms — bigots and racists, but when context is added, we have, in the last 50 years, made more progress in human rights, diversity tolerance and social mobility than any people on Earth.
More minorities have been elected or appointed to public and private positions than at any time or in any place in history. We are the first nation to elect a minority president. We are the first to establish a national holiday honoring a minority citizen. And we are the first nation ever to witness the great-great granddaughter of a slave peacefully rise to the status of First Lady.
Juxtaposing then/now statues would serve as a powerful antidote to volatile emotions. Consider placing Jefferson Davis’ statue next to Barack Obama’s, mount the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s next to Robert E. Lee’s, or set Roger B. Taney’s next to Thurgood Marshall’s.
Serious diversity challenges are still palpable. But if we see them in context, not just in text, they take on a different hue and encourage a tension-reducing awareness, and a less contentious citizenship.
Mark Welter, Ramsey
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We could use more heroes, and fewer statues of heroes.
Almost all statues are a form of propaganda — an oversimplified, romantic version of the past. Rather than being built to scale, they are typically larger than life, in order to convince us that the subject was the same. Which wasn’t true, of course, as evidenced by the subject’s death and subsequent memorial.
Then there is the pose, often a look of vanquishing conquest, sprinkled with sternness, resolve, vision — never mortal fear, self-doubt, inner conflict. And if the subject happens to be riding a horse, the beast either looks calmly grateful to be mounted by such a mythical figure or, alternatively, is rearing up in primal fear as a hail of invisible bullets or bureaucratic red tape whistles through the air.
Statues are a public version of a corporate logo, a highly concocted image meant to be far more than the sum of its parts. Logos sell stuff. Statues are selling some version of history. And while we must study and understand the past to prepare for the future, the history lessons of statues generally promote superficial thinking in an increasingly complex world.
But we don’t need more shallow thinking from headline professors or tagline intelligentsia. Standing dumbstruck for a few moments in front of the MLK statue in Washington, D.C., doesn’t do much to advance civilization if it can’t push viewers to seek a deeper understanding of the man and the times. Going to Disney’s Epcot doesn’t mean you’ve been to France.
At a riverfront park in downtown Memphis there stands a statue of Jefferson Davis, and the plaque beneath it ends with the descriptive, “He was a true American patriot.” Hmm … . It does not inform viewers that they are within walking distance of the Lorraine Motel, where King was murdered, or even a shorter walk to Beale Street, where the music of the blues — birthed in the suffering of African-American slaves — has become Memphis’ modern-day logo and tourist attraction.
Here in Minnesota, a statue of Christopher Columbus on the State Capitol grounds reminds us that Mr. Columbus initiated “the merging of the cultures of the Old and the New Worlds.” Hmm … . As when the Old World smallpox virus merged with New World indigenous people and killed them by the hundreds of thousands.
A more comprehensive and accurate view of the historical evidence shows the “settling” of the Americas to have been more of a hostile takeover than a merger. But that’s a little too much detail for a statue. Let’s keep it light and reverent and woefully simplistic.
Craig Bowron, St. Paul
SMALL TOWNS AND DIVERSITY
Account should open our eyes to the breadth of insularity
The honest and courageous article written by Lisa Moore (“A simple breeding ground of white supremacy,” Aug. 20) should serve as a clarion call to all of us. She described her painful experiences as an outsider trying to establish a comfortable lifestyle for her family in a community that she feels was not altogether welcoming.
While I initially took issue with her observations, I quickly realized their validity and questioned my right to disagree. Who am I to say that her feelings of isolation are not legitimate nor an accurate portrayal of a community I always characterized as open-minded and inclusive?
I want to thank her for sharing her thoughtful worries and revelations. It is indeed timely, and demands that we all mindfully ask ourselves how we, however inadvertently, contribute to her experiences as an outsider. It is a most valuable reminder, and I can only hope that she has an opportunity to become acquainted with the many kindhearted, gracious and justice-minded citizens who add such vitality to Northfield and whose efforts to make others feel accepted and welcomed is unceasing.
Laurie Cowles, Northfield
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Ms. Moore is owed a large debt of gratitude for her heart-wrenching account of white supremacy in small-town Minnesota, including “always making the calls for play dates,” being exposed to “big pickup trucks” with Trump stickers and (most egregiously) having to endure “sympathetic smiles from well-meaning white people.”
Moore’s courage and forbearance in the face of such enormities is to be admired, as is her willingness to endure them in order to avoid a long daily commute.
Peter D. Abarbanel, Apple Valley
ART IN MINNEAPOLIS
Great idea to map it; now let’s have more to map to begin with
Congratulations to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and to Mary Altman of the Minneapolis Arts Commission for the bright idea to map out city art (local section, Aug. 18) with online, interactive tours. We have friends from around the country come stay with us to bike the Twin Cities. Identifying routes and points of interest focused on art is a fabulous way to clearly and so simply enhance the reputation of the city and the appeal of biking here in a new way for visitors and residents alike, by highlighting our already great arts community.
A simple idea, but so smart. Now we just need more art. Whoever traveled to Europe or anywhere else to see office space and freeways?
One suggestion: Put hard copies on all the bike shops.
Cherie Doyle Riesenberg, St. Paul
Not a safety concern, not at all
An Aug. 19 letter writer referring to the updated Nicollet Mall says it “seems like the new mall, if successful, could be a great target for terrorists.” He has little to fear — Nicollet Mall will never be finished.
Judy Lebedoff, Minneapolis