Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Wednesday that the city would begin a “public process” of reviewing 41 “statues, plaques, and works of art” honoring potentially “offensives” historical figures, including statues of Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, And Ulysses S. Grant.
The announcement marks the conclusion of the “Chicago Monuments Project,” which began over the summer after vandals attempted to fell a statue of Christopher Columbus in Chicago’s Grant Park (a statue which was later “temporarily removed” in the middle of the night). The project reviewed 500 of the city’s public monuments “with an eye toward identifying those that were offensive, problematic, or not representative of [the] city’s values of equity and justice.”
“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,” the Sun-Times said Thursday.
The commission pared down its list of 500 statues, plaques, markers, and murals, to just 41 potentially “offensive” works of art and is now inviting the public to comment on whether they feel the items should be removed. Chicago residents can register online to join a series of public discussions on the issue, beginning next Tuesday.
“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 Sun-Times noted.
American presidents, including Illinois’ own Lincoln and Grant, are certainly on the list, as are statues of Christopher Columbus and one given to the city by Italo Balbo — an actual fascist — but so are some statues of historical significance, including a version of the statue that stood guard over the 1893 World’s Fair — the famous “White City” — reliefs showing the history of Chicago, and a statue honoring one of the few Jewish founding fathers, Haym Solomon.
There is at least one surprising inclusion: a monument honoring the Haymarket riot, an 1886 labor rally that turned into a violent confrontation between police and would-be union members and anarchists.
Lightfoot did not give a timeline for the city-wide “discussion,” and it is not clear what the plans are for statues and other works of art that eventually run afoul of Chicago residents’ sensibilities.
‘The city did not say how the feedback will be used in regards to existing monuments. Some have said art that honors racist figures should be removed, but others, including Mayor Lori Lightfoot, have been hesitant to commit to taking down such work,” Block Club Chicago reported. “But feedback will be used to ‘erect a series of new monuments that equitably acknowledge Chicago’s shared history,’ according to the city.”
The city is also taking applications from artists interested in creating these more inclusive works.
In a statement, Lightfoot said the review process will, however, be 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.”
“Given the past year and in particular the past summer that made clear history isn’t past, it is essential that residents are a part of this conversation. This project is about more than a single statue or mural, it’s about channeling our city’s dynamic civic energy to permanently memorialize our shared values, history, and heritage as Chicagoans in an open and democratic way,” she added.