News Hits

James E. Loewen’s Top 20 candidates for ‘toppling’

1. "Perhaps the most hated monument in America is the only one I know that overtly praises white supremacy — the obelisk celebrating the White League in New Orleans." The monument honors an 1874 uprising by white Democrats against the state’s racially mixed Republican government; the battle left 35 dead and nearly 80 wounded. Federal troops restored the Reconstruction government.

2. Shoulders stooped, hat doffed as if frozen in a friendly but deferential hello, this statue’s inscription reads: "Erected by the City of Natchitoches in Grateful Recognition of the Arduous and Faithful Service of the Good Darkies of Louisiana. …" Erected in 1927, "The Good Darky" has since been moved to the Rural Life Museum in Baton Rouge. But Loewen criticizes the museum for not presenting any information about the statue’s history of symbolic meaning.

3. A number of statues and plaques across the country commemorate "the hiker," the archetypal American volunteer in the Spanish-American War. But in addition to other historic confusions, the markers routinely extend the three-month Spanish-American War to span 1898-1902. The plaques actually commemorate the Philippine War, lost in the haze of "historical amnesia."

4. "If any historical marker deserves toppling rather than just revision, first on the list is the marker for the ‘horrible Indian massacre’ of 1861 in Almo, Idaho, since the event it describes never happened." Still, Loewen argues that, properly explained in a museum, it could help illustrate the "climate of hostility toward Native Americans" in which it was created.

5-6. Of all the dubious statues to Christopher Columbus, Loewen singles out those in the capitols of California and Ohio for falsely claiming that Columbus proved the world was round.

7. For his service to "slavery and treason," Loewen would remove John C. Calhoun’s likenesses from "Marion Square in Charleston, the South Carolina State House, Calhoun College at Yale, the United States Capitol, and wherever he sits in a place of honor."

8. Monuments to Jefferson Davis, Loewen writes, were erected "only after his 1880 death, when white supremacy was locked in place all across America and the Lost Cause was no longer lost." Monuments need to give more information about the rise and fall of Davis’ popularity and to question such claims as that Davis "fought for state rights defended by the Constitution."

9. Stone Mountain in Georgia bills itself as the world’s largest relief sculpture — 90 feet high and 190 feet across — and depicts Confederate leaders Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Stonewall Jackson. "Surely … those who run it can find a way to tell every visitor about the connections between the Confederacy and all three incarnations of the Ku Klux Klan."

10. Tennessee’s Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forest has more statues and plaques (36) than anyone else in any other state. None mentions his later role as the KKK’s first national leader.

11. "Author Poet Scholar Soldier Philanthropist Philosopher Jurist Orator" reads the plaque to Confederate Gen. Albert Pike in Judiciary Square in Washington, D.C. No mention of his role as a key Klan leader or what Loewen calls a disgraceful battlefield record.

12, The only person executed for war crimes after the Civil War was Confederate Capt. Henry Wirz, head of the notorious POW camp at Andersonville, Ga. He is honored with an obelisk in Andersonville.

13. Obelisks to faithful slaves and "Afro-Confederates" in Fort Mill, S.C., and elsewhere perpetuate myths about African-American support for slavery and the Confederacy.

14. Repeatedly toppled already, and finally removed from public view, Loewen would move to a museum — and fully explain — the statue of a Chicago policeman which commemorates 13 or more officers who died in the Haymarket Riot of 1886. "Eight labor organizers were charged with ‘conspiracy’ to commit the police murders" in what Loewen calls a travesty of justice; seven were executed.

15. A statue to former U.S. Sen. "Pitchfork" Ben Tillman stands in the South Carolina State Capitol. Loewen quotes the archsegregationist Tillman on the subject of African-American voting rights: "We have scratched our heads to find out how we could eliminate every last one of them. We stuffed ballot boxes. We shot them. We are not ashamed of it."

16. A statue to "Mississippi’s answer to Tillman" stands in the Mississippi State Capitol. That would be the late Sen. Theodore G. Bilbo. A Bilbo quote: "Don’t let a single nigger vote."

17. "The American Museum of Natural History in New York might leave Teddy Roosevelt where he sits on his horse, so long as he removes the African-American and the Native American who stand subserviently beneath him," writes Loewen.

18. Leander Perez, 50-year district judge in Palquemines Parish, La., ruled as a virtual dictator, writes Loewen. Since the virulently segregationist judge "cheated his white constituents as well as those residents he called ‘niggers,’" Loewen would recommend that all residents join together to get rid of the three plaques praising him.

19. As to "toppling" Dearborn’s Orville Hubbard, Loewen says: "Until Dearborn takes this step, it insults daily the people of color in the Detroit area by continuing to commemorate the man whose principal claim to fame is that he kept them out."

20. In 1998, Pueblo Indians and other supporters cut off the right foot of the Santa Fe statue of conquistador Juan de Onate; that made it a memorial, in turn, to such victims of Onate as two dozen Native Americans whose feet were so amputated as a sign of Spain’s imperial might. The statue has since been repaired, but Loewen argues that a public discussion and "re-maiming" would better serve our understanding of history.

Squeezing Lemmons

Is Democratic state Rep. LaMar Lemmons eyeing a seat for himself on the Detroit City Council? He says he’s not. Still, you could be suspicious of Lemmons, who’s sponsoring a bill that would boot three longtime council members from office. The legislation seeks to limit city council members representing more than 800,000 residents (Detroit, of course, is the only municipality in Michigan where this applies) to three terms or 12 years in office. Because the bill is retroactive, its implementation would mean saying adios to council President Gil Hill, President Pro Tem Maryann Mahaffey and Councilmember Clyde Cleveland.

At least the legislation requires that Detroit voters approve this plan before it goes into effect, as would another bill to replace the at-large council with district-based representation.

Hill’s message to Lemmons, who will be facing his own term limit-induced exit from the House in five years, is: "If you feel that strongly about it, why not initiate it here in Detroit rather than Lansing where lawmakers are hostile to the people of Detroit?"

Wouldn’t the Republican-dominated Legislature rather nullify council elections like it did with the Detroit School Board and fill the seats with Mayor Archer appointees? But now that we think of it, Lemmons, at least, was one of the leading critics of that takeover.

Down with Orville Hubbard

It trails far behind the obelisk to the White League of New Orleans, Spanish-American War plaques that cover up a five-year U.S. campaign in the Philippines, and Baton Rouge’s "Good Darky" statue, but Dearborn’s tribute to Orville Hubbard still makes a recent Top 20 list of monuments ripe for "toppling."

In his book Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong (The New Press), historian-author James W. Loewen surveys nearly 100 historical markers. "Across America, the landscape commemorates those men and women who opposed each agonizing step our nation took on the path toward freedom and justice," he writes.

As for Hubbard, Loewen notes that statue marker at Dearborn City Hall praises the 1942-1978 mayor as "an effective administrator" but omits any note of his role as the North’s No. 1 spokesman for segregation. "I’m not a racist, but I just hate those black bastards," Loewen quotes Hubbard telling department heads.

By "toppling," however, Loewen calls not for knocking down monuments but promoting dialogue and discussion to have them moved (to museums, for instance) and given accurate markers. No comment yet from the office of Dearborn Mayor Michael Guido for ranking No. 19 on Loewen’s list.

Dream overload

DePaul University professor Michael Eric Dyson is tired of memorializing Martin Luther King Jr. with his "I Have a Dream" speech.

"I suggest we take a 10-year hiatus on listening to that speech," said Dyson in a recent interview with MT’s sister publication, CityView. In his new book, I May Not Get There With You, released on MLK Day, Dyson captures King’s radical legacy, which included opposing the Vietnam War, rejecting capitalism and embracing democratic socialism.

In that spirit, here is a quote from a less noted speech, "Beyond Vietnam," in which King criticized U.S. involvement in the war: "True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."

AOL comes calling

As if last week’s America Online-Time Warner marriage proposal weren’t enough, an apparatchik of AOL’s online city guide also came sniffing around the Metro Times. An e-mail from the corporate behemoth encouraging MT staff writers to provide content for the AOL site was sent out a quick two days after the merger announcement. Not that we wouldn’t appreciate picking up some of the beer money they’re offering for blurbs, but the big thinkers at AOL headquarters apparently didn’t notice that we’re kinda busy providing the same kind of information for our own site. The oversight is understandable, of course. When you’re busy taking over the world, a few details are going to get lost in the trampling. Memo to AOL: When your goal is to slit the throat of every competitor in the universe, you might think twice before asking that competition to hand you a sharp knife.

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