Why, in the United States, Great Britain and France, statues and monuments seen as symbols of white suprematism have been scarred, knocked down, removed? City by city, here are three big maps of the disputes after the death of George Floyd
by Paola De Carolis from London, Stefano Montefiori from Paris and Giuseppe Sarcina from Washington
United States, trial of Colombo but also of Jim Crow era monuments
by Giuseppe Sarcina, correspondent from Washington
The first statues were thrown down in late May, a few days after George Floyd’s death, in Minneapolis (May 25). There was no political and organizational direction. But the intensity and corality of the protests have released the iconoclastic fury that has been maturing in the United States for years. The wave is mainly affecting one of the most controversial periods in recent history. Most of the demolished monuments and statues date back to the first twenty years of the twentieth century, with a tail that reaches the beginning of the Second World War. At that time the country was in the balance between modernity and nostalgia. The wounds, the resentments of the civil war (1861-1865) were still alive. Slavery had been abolished by Abraham Lincoln, but discrimination continued to poison American society, condensing itself into the laws of segregation (Jim Crow). Between 1915 and 1925 the reborn Klu Klux Klan had five million members. In 1924 thousands marched through the streets of New York. It was the era of the Colonial Revival, the rediscovery of white pride or rather the supremacy of the white race. A feeling that materialized in the flowering of monuments dedicated to the losers of the Civil War and that dragged on until the beginning of the Second War.
Many of those statues have been thrown off the pedestal in recent weeks, especially in the south of the country, from Richmond (Virginia) to Birmingham (Alabama), although the Colonial Revival also spread to the industrial North and then to the West. The list includes the most well-known figures such as Robert E. Lee, commander of the southern army, or Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederation. And, in cascade, a plethora of generals, admirals, soldiers unknown to most, like Stonewall Jackson, Lee’s deputy; or Matthew Fontaine Maury, commander of the Confederation Navy or even J. E. B. Stuard, Southern Cavalry Commander. Their statues are located on Park Avenue, the monumental area of Richmond. They were smeared in early June and will now be removed on the orders of the Governor of Virginia, Democrat Ralph Northam. But the offensive also involves other eras, starting with box number one: Christopher Columbus. The trial of the great Genoese navigator has lasted for decades, so much so that it has become a recurring motif in pop culture. Just to give an example, in an episode of the TV series The Sopranos, the nineties, the clash between the Italian-American community of New Jersey and that of the Native Americans on the day of Columbus day is told. More recently the topic has become political. At the moment, 13 states have canceled the anniversary of 12 October, replacing it with a day in memory of the suffering endured by Native Americans. The latest Colorado arrived preparing to replace the explorer’s celebration with a tribute to Mother Cabrini, the nun who founded schools, orphanages and hospitals and became the first American saint in 1946. Starting from this hinterland, activists from Boston (Massachusetts), Saint Paul (Minnesota), Richmond (Virginia) and other cities took action against the statues of Columbus, calling him a bloodthirsty conqueror, the first of the white supremacists.
Most of the demolished statues date back to the first twenty years of the twentieth century. It was the era of the Colonial Revival, the rediscovery of the supremacy of the white race. A feeling that materialized in the flowering of monuments dedicated to the losers of the Civil War
Anger splinters have also invested the first president of the United States. In Portland, Oregon, the statue of George Washington been shot down and then burned. Reason? Washington was a slave owner. An accusation, posthumously, also addressed to Thomas Jefferson, the third president and, above all, the author of the cardinal phrase of the American identity: We consider these truths to be self-evident: all men have been created equal …. The branches are numerous: on June 19 in San Francisco the statue of Ulysses Grant, American president from 1867 to 1877, commander of the Northern Army in the Civil War, attacked because he owned a slave for a year before releasing him. In New York, the board of the Museum of Natural History has decided to remove the equestrian monument a Theodore Roosevelt, portrait on horseback, dominant over an African American and a native. In Washington it has even been defaced Gandhi’s image. And frankly, it is not clear why. The spontaneity of the movement, therefore, is creating confusion and disorientation even among many sympathizers who are struggling to put Christopher Columbus or Thomas Jefferson (not to mention Gandhi) on the same level with the slaves ready for the Civil War to keep black people in chains .
The legacy of the British Empire, which first freed the slaves (and compensated the slavers)
by Paola De Carolis from London
LONDON – Made on Friday. Millions of you have helped end slavery. The debt contracted by the government for the act that abolished it was so vast that it was only paid in 2015. A tweet from Her Majesty’s Treasury Ministry in 2018 revealed a little known aspect of the law that in 1833 made the British Empire the first in the world to free its slaves. Approval of the law is a fact that all history books speak of. Less well known that £ 20 million – around £ 20 billion today – was used to compensate not slaves, but their owners. A share that whites, blacks, Asians and immigrants of all ethnicities have repaid over the years through taxes. About 3,000 families from the UK received a share, including George Orwell’s great-grandfather, the author of Animal farm is 1984, as well as the ancestors of the writer Graham Greene and the former prime minister David Cameron in addition to politicians like William Gladstone and entrepreneurs like Edward Colston.
In the nineteenth century Empire slavery was a practice that touched a cross-section of society, a reality against which today the movement clashes which, under the banner of Black Lives Matter, asks for the removal of monuments and public recognitions to whom in the past centuries with the slaves it was enriched. If for now the government has limited itself to promising a review of the historical figures to whom public spaces are dedicated as well as ensuring that those who ruin the artistic heritage will be severely punished, the anger among citizens increases as well as the pressure on museums and associations, as shown the decision of Oriel College, in Oxford, to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes, undoubtedly racist imperialist entrepreneur (the Anglo-Saxon race, he wrote in a letter in 1877, the first in the world) but also founder of a scholarship that allowed hundreds of young Americans and Africans to study in Oxford as well as in other major universities.
Twenty million pounds – about 20 billion today – was used to compensate 3,000 slaves in the UK, including George Orwell’s great-grandfather and the ancestors of former Prime Minister David Cameron
the gray area of history: Edward Colston, whose statue in Bristol was thrown into the harbor on June 7 by the demonstrators, he was a slave trader, but also a philanthropist who financed schools, hospitals and charities. Robert Milligan, whose monument was removed on June 9th from the Docklands Museum in London, he owned two sugar plantations in Jamaica, as well as about 600 slaves. At the same time, the importance of the Port of London is also due to him. William Gladstone, whose statue in Liverpool was beheaded, was prime minister four times. In 1833 he declared himself against the abolition of slavery (his father had several plantations), but he changed his mind and in 1850 he called it the cruelest crime of humanity.
Labor David Lammy, shadow government justice minister, stressed that statues like Colston’s should have been removed in an orderly and democratic manner years ago. Several conservatives echoed it. They are a chapter in our history, but they should be exhibited in museums, not in public spaces, added Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London. And what about Winston Churchill, whose statue in Westminster Square has been smeared? he was the hero of the Second World War, but also undoubtedly involved (and proud of being) in the atrocities against blacks and whites in Africa. He was a complicated man, with opinions that are certainly no longer acceptable today, stressed his granddaughter Emma Soames. At the same time he united the country against the enemy. We cannot consider history only through the present. For the writer Juliet Gilkes Romero, who wrote a theatrical piece on the relationship between the United Kingdom and slavery commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company (The Whip, the whip, the title) the complicated problem. The story of the slaves we know that comes to us from the United States. We have seen Roots, we read beloved. Where are the British stories? Of course, he stressed, school textbooks should be reviewed, but culture has an important role to play. This is the history of our country. Our present an open dialogue with the past.
From France to Belgium: who decides who gets off the pedestal?
by Stefano Montefiori, correspondent from Paris
PARIS – State Negrophobia, read for a few hours on the statue of Jean-Baptiste Colbert sprinkled with red paint, right in front of the National Assembly, the lower house of the French Parliament. it was the work of anti-racism militants who are accused of extremism in these days, obsession with the politically correct, rewriting of History according to fashions that came from the other side of the Atlantic and the Black Lives Matter movement. Not taken down the street with the can of paint, but also a man who is not suspicious of anti-system rebellion like the calm Jean-Marc Ayrault, a former socialist prime minister, believes that the issue has a foundation, and calls for Colbert’s name to be removed from the National Assembly hall and a building in Bercy, the complex that houses the economic ministries of France. What is Colbert reproached for? Born in Reims in 1619 and died 64 years later in Paris, Jean-Baptiste Colbert was the chief minister of the Sun King, Louis XIV, and the architect of state interventionism in the economy. In recent years Colbert has been regularly reminded every time – and often happened – that the Paris government has defended its national champions in the world market by showing economic patriotism. But Colbert was also the promoter of Code Noir, which entered into force immediately after his death, which regulated the slave trade in the colonies. There are symbols that the Rpublique can no longer tolerate, Ayrault argues, giving weight to a battle that many hastily associate with vandalism.
The harsher voices against the claim to rewrite history are heard above all from the circles of sovereignty and the far right. Philippe de Villiers for example, successful essayist and founder of the theme park on the history of France Puy du Fou, claims that the collectors of statues, protagonists of this great expiatory movement, try to break our collective imagination to excite the memory competition and trigger a penitential submission process. The beauty that de Villiers himself, on the occasion of the bicentenary of the French Revolution, clamored for the statues of great criminals against humanity to be demolished as Robespierre, Marat or Saint-Just.
The general director of Unesco Audrey Azoulay, former Minister of Culture, considers it legitimate to ask the question of who we want to remember and celebrate and why. But deciding whether or not to remove a statue should be the result of reflection, a shared democratic choice. Otherwise, with militant and unilateral gestures, there is the risk of contrasting violence with another violence.
As you can see, the debate is not very serene and very ideological. The French director general of Unesco is a balanced position Audrey Azoulay, former Minister of Culture, who in an interview with Courier service considers it legitimate to ask the question of who we want to remember and celebrate and why. But deciding whether or not to remove a statue should be the fruit of reflection, a shared democratic choice. Otherwise, with militant and unilateral gestures, there is the risk of contrasting violence with another violence.
Once the summary processes have begun, there is a risk of not going so much for the subtle, and of failing to distinguish the responsibilities of each. If in Paris a black cloth was placed on the monument of the Marshal Gallieni, hero of the First World War but also massacre of the Madagascar rioters (a repression of 80 thousand deaths), in Fort-de-France, capital of the French overseas department of Martinique, the statue of the deputy and senator Victor Schoelcher, although the architect of the abolition of slavery: he is reproached for having been white and therefore paternalistic, and in any case for having lavishly indemnified the slaveholders, perpetuating the colonialist exploitation system.
Then there are unquestionably bad figures like King Leopold II of Belgium, whose crimes are described in an extraordinary way in the essay Congo by the historian David van Reybrouck, published 10 years ago also in Italy by Feltrinelli. Many of his statues have been defaced or destroyed in Antwerp, Brussels and other Belgian cities, and her own descendant, Princess Esmeralda, suggests that June 30 – 60 anniversary of Congo’s independence – will be an opportunity for Belgium to finally apologize for the atrocities committed during the colonization.
Yet the question of monuments and memory is not easy even in this case. Because if the former colonizers question, their ruling Congolese successors choose Leopold II as an improbable and paradoxical model: he had up to 10 million Africans massacred, okay, but managed to build an entire state (and use it effectively for personal enrichment). Leopold II as an example for the various Mobuto or Kabila, master fathers of Kinshasa. So if the statues of Leopold II fall in Belgium, a new statue of the Belgian king was erected in Lubumbashi, in wealthy Katanga, just two years ago.
by Paola De Carolis from London, Stefano Montefiori from Paris and Giuseppe Sarcina from Washington