A University of Illinois professor told lawmakers considering whether to remove or change statues and other ceremonial landmarks on state property that it’s perfectly appropriate for elected officials to alter the way the past is interpreted.
“History is not the same as the past,” David Hays, university professor of landscape architecture, said Wednesday. “How we understand the past changes over time. History is not the same as the past. History is a matter of interpretation.”
He and other speakers at the first meeting of the Illinois House’s Statue and Monument Review Task Force urged lawmakers to do in-depth studies, and consider soliciting opinions from the general public, before eliminating, altering or moving statues and other historical representations that may be viewed as racist or otherwise upsetting by today’s standards.
The task force, which eventually will submit a report to the House but hasn’t decided yet on a timeline or future meetings, was formed recently by House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Chicago.
A news release on the taskforce last week said the recommendations may include suggestions for new statutes “to ensure Illinois’ public art is historically accurate and reflects the diversity of the state.”
Taskforce chairwoman Mary Flowers, a Democratic state representative from Chicago, said in the release: “This review is not about erasing history. In fact. The goal of this task force is that our artwork reflects an accurate retelling of our history and the contributions made by all people.”
Former House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said in 2020 that statues and portraits of 19th century U.S. Sen. Stephen Douglas should be removed from the Statehouse and that the statue of the Rev. Martin Luther King be moved from the front of the Illinois State Library to a more prominent location.
The painting of Douglas that hangs in the Illinois House chamber has been covered and statues of Douglas and Pierre Menard, both slave-holders, were removed from the Capitol grounds after a vote of the board for the Office of the Architect of the Capitol.
A statue of Douglas in the Capitol’s second floor remains.
Madigan called for an overall review of statues, portraits and other symbols on the Capitol grounds.
The taskforce listened for 90 minutes Wednesday to experts from the National Conference of State Legislatures, Council of State Governments, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
The representatives said many states, including Arizona, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee and Minnesota, are considering or have disposed of, altered or moved statues because of concerns that they promote or symbolize white supremacy.
Taskforce member Rep. Tim Butler, a Republican from Springfield, said he appreciated the thoughtful, in-depth approach to the topic that the speakers encouraged.
The notion of removing statues of presidents Abraham Lincoln or Ulysses Grant from state-owned property, Butler said, “gives me pause.”
The removal of Lincoln and Grant statues, as well as images of Christopher Columbus, is being considered in Chicago.
“We’re the guardians of these monuments today,” Butler said. “Some of those memorialized are complicated people. It’s not all black and white.”
Without commenting on specific statues, Flowers said, “Bigotry is bigotry,” and that some monuments were erected in the United States in the early 1900s as a form of intimidation of Black voters when Jim Crow laws were being enacted.
Contact Dean Olsen: email@example.com; (217) 836-1068; twitter.com/DeanOlsenSJR.
via The State Journal-Register
April 22, 2021 at 06:42AM