N.E.H. Funds Restoration of Statues Toppled During Protests

Statues of Christopher Columbus in Baltimore and a Union Army colonel in Madison, Wis., will be repaired.

(October 30, 2020)


New York Times
By Julia Jacobs

In response to an executive order from President Trump condemning the destruction of historical monuments during recent racial justice protests, the National Endowment for the Humanities is allocating $90,000 to repair or rebuild damaged statues, including one of Christopher Columbus that was toppled in Baltimore.

The agency said on Friday that it was providing funds for the restoration of three statues that were damaged during protests over the summer: the Baltimore monument to Columbus, which was tossed into the city’s Inner Harbor on the Fourth of July; a statue of an abolitionist and Union Army colonel, Hans Christian Heg, in Madison, Wis.; and a replica of a 19th-century statue in Madison called “Forward.”

The N.E.H. said it would also help fund a new bronze of Frederick Douglass in Rochester, N.Y. A statue of the famed abolitionist was destroyed in the city in July but was quickly replaced.

After the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, demonstrations erupted across the country, and protesters aimed to take down public statues, reinvigorating a debate over whether monuments to national leaders with complicated or violent legacies should stand. Demonstrators targeted monuments to the Confederacy in particular — none of which were included in the N.E.H.’s latest funding package.

Mr. Trump’s executive order, issued on July 3, called the destruction of monuments an “assault on our collective national memory” and created a task force devoted to “building and rebuilding monuments to American heroes.” The chairman of the N.E.H., Jon Parrish Peede, was named a member of that task force.

The funding came from what the agency calls a chairman’s grant, which is often used to safeguard cultural artifacts during emergency situations like hurricanes.

Statues of Columbus have been targeted across the country because of his role as a European colonizer whose journeys led to the decimation of American Indigenous populations, but any plans to take down monuments to him often draw pushback from Italian-American organizations.

The fate of the Columbus statue in Baltimore had been unclear. After protesters took down the statue, near the city’s Little Italy, and dragged it into the water, a group of Italian Americans fished the marble chunks out of the water and kept them in a private warehouse, The Baltimore Sun reported last month. Now, they’ll have significant help restoring the statue.

Some episodes of monument destruction were harder to square with the messaging of the protesters. In Rochester, the authorities puzzled over who had torn down the Douglass statue after it was discovered on July 5 near a river gorge. Mr. Trump called the perpetrators “anarchists,” but the police said they had no evidence to confirm that.

The N.E.H. said the funds would go toward Rochester Community TV to support the creation of another statue of Douglass, who lived in the city for about 25 years. It said a possible site for the statue would be the Rochester airport.

In Madison, the statue of the Union Army colonel and “Forward,” which depicts a woman standing at the prow of a boat and clutching an American flag, had been taken to Detroit for repair, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported this month. The statues will be reinstalled on the state Capitol’s grounds.

The N.E.H. also announced on Friday that $30,000 would be allocated to the digitization of archival materials documenting Bronx Community College’s Hall of Fame for Great Americans, an open-air colonnade lined with busts of historical figures like George Washington Carver and Edgar Allan Poe; the digitized materials are meant to be used for educational purposes while the colonnade is closed during the pandemic.

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