Chicago Lists Lincoln Statues Among Monuments to ReviewA city commission, created after protests against racism last year, identified five statues of Abraham Lincoln among 41 monuments that should receive public scrutiny.By Maria Cramer

A Chicago committee has listed five statues of Abraham Lincoln among dozens of monuments that it said needed to be reviewed as part of a project to reconsider symbols that have become “a focal point for conversation, protest and activism,” the city said Wednesday.

The city created the committee in response to last summer’s protests, some of which centered on statues of historical figures, to review Chicago’s collection of monuments and “recommend solutions.”

The review comes as other U.S. cities have made similar efforts to re-examine historical symbols and monuments that have come under new scrutiny in the wake of protests against racism and police violence. Last year, local leaders took down statues of Christopher Columbus and Confederate leaders, among other monuments, and last month, the San Francisco school board voted to remove the names of modern and historical figures, including Lincoln and George Washington, from 44 of its public schools.

The committee in Chicago did not provide specific reasons that the statues of Lincoln, who started his political career in Illinois, should be reviewed. The list also includes statues of Ulysses S. Grant, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and several monuments to Indigenous people.

The committee said it had looked at 500 monumental sculptures, commemorative plaques and other pieces of public art in the city, almost all of which were created between 1893 and the 1930s. Forty-one were chosen for “public discussion,” the committee said, for reasons that included “promoting narratives of white supremacy”; the presentation of “inaccurate or demeaning characterizations of American Indians”; and memorializing historical figures with connections to racist acts, slavery and genocide.

Other reasons given were that the markers presented “selective, oversimplified, one-sided views of history” and created “tension between people who see value in these artworks and those who do not.”

“We invite you to review the artworks that have been identified, suggest others, and to share your opinions on the role of monuments in Chicago’s public spaces,” the committee, an advisory group of the “Chicago Monuments Project,” said on the effort’s website.

The project described its mission as grappling “with the often unacknowledged — or forgotten — history associated with the City’s various municipal art collections and provides a vehicle to address the hard truths of Chicago’s racial history.”

The committee, which is made up of 30 members that include historians, urban planners and artists, was appointed to determine which pieces of art in the city “warrant attention or action.” The project said it planned to recommend new monuments or public art that could be commissioned and create a platform for the public “to engage in a civic dialogue about Chicago’s history.”

Lincoln, although born in Kentucky, has become synonymous with Illinois, where he moved when he was 21 and where he lived until he became president in 1861. In 1955, the state officially designated its slogan as “Land of Lincoln” in honor of the former president, whose home in Springfield is designated a historic site by the National Park Service.

The committee’s list almost immediately drew criticism from some state leaders. “Never thought that statues of Abraham Lincoln or Ulysses S. Grant would be considered ‘controversial’ in the Land of Lincoln,” Representative Darin LaHood, a Republican who represents parts of Peoria and Springfield, wrote on Twitter. “This is detached from reason.”

Daniel Fountain, a professor of history at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C., said that Lincoln’s legacy has come under scrutiny in the 21st century in part because, as a younger politician, his views reflected the white supremacist attitudes of most 19th-century politicians.

Professor Fountain noted that during his famous debate with Stephen Douglas, his rival in Illinois, Lincoln stated his opposition to letting Black people serve as jurors, marry white people or “attain any semblance of social equality.”

Lincoln’s views evolved during the Civil War, but those early statements remained “abysmal,” he said.

“For many, his flaws undermine his very real, significant achievements,” Professor Fountain said.

Statues of Lincoln have also been criticized for their portrayal of him as a savior of Black people, and for obscuring the role Black Americans played in ending slavery. A statue of Lincoln in Boston, showing a Black man kneeling before the president, was taken down last December.

Such statues diminish “the active role African-Americans played in emancipation and inflates white efforts,” Professor Fountain said.

He said that while he was “not necessarily in favor of ripping down statues,” in cases where a monument was offensive or overly simplistic, “we need to re-conceive how we embrace monuments and where we put them and with what intent.”

A review of monuments depicting flawed American figures is reasonable, said Mary Frances Berry, a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania.

“People like George Washington, who had slaves, and Lincoln, who evolved to become a person against slavery, are American heroes,” she said.

“If they did anything nefarious,” Professor Berry said, that history “should be told publicly and it should be reviewed and we should make sure that everyone knows.” She added, “I’m not generally in favor of washing away history so that people don’t have to think about it.”

Other reasons given were that the markers presented “selective, oversimplified, one-sided views of history” and created “tension between people who see value in these artworks and those who do not.”

“We invite you to review the artworks that have been identified, suggest others, and to share your opinions on the role of monuments in Chicago’s public spaces,” the committee, an advisory group of the “Chicago Monuments Project,” said on the effort’s website.

The project described its mission as grappling “with the often unacknowledged — or forgotten — history associated with the City’s various municipal art collections and provides a vehicle to address the hard truths of Chicago’s racial history.”

The committee, which is made up of 30 members that include historians, urban planners and artists, was appointed to determine which pieces of art in the city “warrant attention or action.” The project said it planned to recommend new monuments or public art that could be commissioned and create a platform for the public “to engage in a civic dialogue about Chicago’s history.”

“For many, his flaws undermine his very real, significant achievements,” Professor Fountain said.

Statues of Lincoln have also been criticized for their portrayal of him as a savior of Black people, and for obscuring the role Black Americans played in ending slavery. A statue of Lincoln in Boston, showing a Black man kneeling before the president, was taken down last December.

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