Fred Spielman, Chicago Sun-Times, February 17, 2021
Mayor Lori Lightfoot vowed Wednesday to confront the “hard truths of Chicago’s racial history” — by launching a public process to review the fate of 41 statues, plaques and works of art, including those of four former U.S. presidents: Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Ulysses S. Grant and William McKinley.
Six months ago, Lightfoot ordered two statues of Christopher Columbus “temporarily” removed in the middle of the night after receiving “intelligence that gave us great concern” something bad was about to happen.
At the same time, the mayor argued Chicago statues of Columbus in Grant and Arrigo Parks vandalized repeatedly since the death of George Floyd should not be torn down, but rather used to confront the nation’s history and trigger a “reckoning” that’s long-overdue.
City Hall then launched the Chicago Monuments Project and created an advisory committee to conduct a comprehensive review of more than 500 Chicago statues and monuments, with an eye toward identifying those that were offensive, problematic or not representative of city’s values of equity and justice.
Last month, advisory committee co-chair Jennifer Scott, director and chief curator of the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, disclosed it had pinpointed 40 statues it deemed problematic.
Reasons for making the list include promoting narratives of white supremacy; presenting an inaccurate or demeaning portrayal of Native Americans; celebrating people with connections to slavery, genocide or racist acts; or “presenting selective, over-simplified, one-sided views of history.”
The project website does not note which criteria might apply to any specific monument or statue.
On Wednesday, the monuments were identified on a new website — chicagomonuments.org — to launch a public engagement process that will conclude April 1.
Besides five statutes of Lincoln, others on the list include the General John Logan Monument in Grant Park; the General Philip Henry Sheridan Monument at Belmont and Lake Shore Drive; a statue of Benjamin Franklin in Lincoln Park; the Haymarket Riot Monument/ Police Memorial at 1300 W. Jackson Blvd; the Italo Balbo Monument in Burnham Park; and the Jean Baptiste Beaubien plaque at the Chicago Cultural Center.
One notable monument missing from the list is the controversial statue of Stephen Douglas, which sits atop his tomb in Bronzeville. Last summer, three members of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus called for the removal of the statue, which they said was “a tribute to a widely known racist and sexist who even staked his presidential platform on the subjugation of any non-white male in America.”
Lightfoot called the project a “powerful opportunity for us to come together as a city to assess the many monuments and memorials across our neighborhoods and communities — to face our history and what and how we memorialize that history.”
The public engagement process is aimed at creating a plan to “erect a series of new monuments that equitably acknowledge Chicago’s shared history,” the mayor’s office said.
Last summer, hundreds of protesters surrounded the Columbus statue in Grant Park. They attempted to pull the statue down and battled with Chicago police officers, many of whom were injured.