White, Male, and, for Now, Still on Pedestals

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tags: memorials, statues, public history

After a year when challenges to Confederate statues and calls for racial justice reached a new peak, the research studio Monument Lab released a study on Wednesday that examined about 50,000 U.S. monuments to determine what the project’s benefactor, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, described as the demographics of “the nation’s commemorative landscape.”

The report says that of the 50 individuals represented most frequently by monuments in this country, 88 percent are white men, and half were slave owners. Only six percent of statues represent women, and 10 percent honor Black or Indigenous figures, according to the National Monument Audit, the product of a yearlong review that will help guide the Mellon Foundation’s $250 million initiative to rethink who Americans honor, why and how.

Of those most represented, Abraham Lincoln topped the list, followed by George Washington and Christopher Columbus. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was fourth; St. Francis of Assisi, fifth; and Robert E. Lee was sixth. The first woman is Joan of Arc, in 18th place, and the first American woman is in 24th place: the abolitionist Harriet Tubman.

To carry out the review, the foundation chose Monument Lab, a Philadelphia-based research studio that focuses on public art and has a strong philosophy of social justice. A 30-member team there found the monuments through publicly available data.

“Without this audit, we wouldn’t be able to do our work,” Elizabeth Alexander, president of the Mellon Foundation, said. The goal of the initiative by Mellon, the largest humanities philanthropy in the nation, is to diversify the country’s monuments.

“We are trying to get people to look around and imagine themselves in the monuments,” Alexander said. Mellon’s five-year Monuments Project, which will include adding new commemorative works and reconfiguring existing ones, is the most ambitious in the foundation’s history.

Paul Farber, director of Monument Lab, said, “We must see monuments as way stations that reflect our values.”

“This is a generational process,” he added.


Read entire article at New York Times

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