NEH bestows grants to repair statues damaged during riots

(November 2, 2020)


The Washington Times
by Christopher Vondracek

The National Endowment for Humanities is providing $120,000 to repair statues that were damaged in this summer’s rioting against racial injustice, insisting that their survival is key to youngsters’ understanding of American history.

The endowment says the grant money will refurbish two statues in Madison, Wisconsin, including one of a Civil War veteran, and a Christopher Columbus statue dragged by protesters into Baltimore’s Inner Harbor in July.

The funds, typically used to repair statues degraded in natural disasters, also will be used to create a new honor for abolitionist Frederick Douglass and pay for a digitization project of historic Americans at a community college in the Bronx.

“We cannot expect our youth to know about our history if we don’t provide them with educational materials — whether its films, books, or statues — to tell about our history,” said NEH Chairman Jon Parrish Peede.

Civil unrest sparked by George Floyd’s death in police custody on Memorial Day included incidents of vandalism and destruction of public monuments at more than 100 sites around the country.

While many rioters targeted statues and memorials honoring Confederate generals or causes, the vandalism — often promulgated by anarchists, according to law enforcement — engulfed other targets, as well.

In Wisconsin’s capital, Madison, protesters uprooted and discarded in the street the replica of a statue of a woman called “Forward” following the arrest of a Black man harassing outdoor diners on June 23. The statue’s sculptor, a woman, was paid by suffragettes. The statues had been placed on the state Capitol grounds in 1898.

On the same night in Madison, a mob dumped into nearby Lake Monona a bronze likeness of Col. Hans Christian Heg, a Norwegian immigrant and anti-slavery politician in Wisconsin who was killed in the Battle of Chickamauga fighting against the Confederacy. The statue honoring Heg had stood outside the Capitol since 1926.

Various protesters told media the toppling of the statues was to draw attention to present-day racial injustices in the state. Wisconsin officials say both statues will be re-installed on Capitol grounds by July, after touch-ups by a bronze company in Detroit.

Meanwhile, a $30,000 NEH grant will repair the sculpture of Columbus that stood in Baltimore’s Little Italy neighborhood from its dedication in 1984 until this past Independence Day, when protesters dragged the explorer’s statue into the Inner Harbor. Divers retrieved the statue two days later.

Columbus, who enslaved Indigenous people, has long been criticized by American Indian activists as a harbinger of colonization.

Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott said in a statement following the incident: “I support Baltimore’s Italian-American community and Baltimore’s indigenous community. I cannot, however, support Columbus.”

The other NEH grants will fund a new Frederick Douglass statue in Rochester, New York, where he lived for a quarter century, and a digitization project for historic photographs of the Hall of Fame for Great Americans led by the Bronx Community College.

No official tally has been kept on the destruction or removal of statues and monuments across the nation.

As of Oct. 14, more than 100 Confederate sculptures on public lands have been removed or renamed since Memorial Day, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Whose Heritage” project.

A spokesperson for NEH said the agency is “in ongoing discussions with cultural organizations and state and local governments about historically significant statues that have been damaged” but no further announcements are expected in coming weeks.

Among the historic figures whose statues have been frequently removed are those of Columbus, Spanish missionary Junipero Serra and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

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