Reckoning With Monuments to Columbus, Washington, Other Slave-holding Founders

Since the Mother Emanuel Church murders by a white supremacist in Charleston, S.C. in 2015, more than 100 Confederate statues have been “dishonorably discharged” from public spaces. Since the murder of George Floyd in May, 2020, the number of statues targeted as “racist or oppressive” has “expanded well beyond the civil war South,” CBS News correspondent Mo Rocca reported.

In Portland, OR, anarchist protesters have, late at night, gone so far as to topple statues of Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln (Portland Oregonian coverage; CNN and AP coverage).

CBS Sunday Morning: “…The range of public monuments removed or vandalized has expanded well beyond those honoring the Confederacy…Statues depicting historic figures from Christopher Columbus to George Washington are now getting a second look.”

But do protesters really even know the men or the history they are seeking to dishonor? Erica Armstrong Dunbar, a historian and author of a book on George Washington’s relentless pursuit of a runaway slave, suggests young people often don’t know much about Columbus, Washington or other founders.

One way to perhaps resolve these conflicts is to erect more monuments to people whose stories have not been widely told, such as Octavius Catto (1839-1871), an educator who fought against laws prohibiting African Americans from riding railways, voting, and attending integrated schools. He was murdered by a white rioter on a Philadelphia street. The likely assassin evaded capture for six years, and was then acquitted by a white supremacist jury.

Drill Deeper:

Italian Americans Were Once Discriminated Against Almost As Much As African Americans.

Columbus Day: Still Worth Celebrating?

Debating Columbus, Using Critical Thinking Skills, Understanding How Columbian Exchange Transformed East and West

Taino Indians, Who Columbus Met and Enslaved, Still Exist

On Honoring Confederates, Slave-holders & Racists

George Washington Relentlessly Pursued Runaway Slave

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