Are Boston’s statues honoring all the right men?

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tags: Boston, Confederate Monuments



As the racist relics of the American South come slowly down — most recently statues of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis were removed in New Orleans — it’s awfully easy to feel smug up here in New England. We don’t have any of those nasty, historically tainted works of public art here, do we?

Wait — do we

Christopher Columbus (1979; Andrew J. Mazzola, sculptor; Christopher Columbus Park near Atlantic Avenue). Well, sure, we celebrate his 1492 arrival in the Bahamas as a national holiday, and he’s a lasting figure of cultural pride to the Italian-American community in the North End and across the country. But Columbus and his entourage also introduced smallpox, syphilis, and slavery to the New World, and his Colonial polices and his men were directly responsible for the decimation of the native population of the island of Hispaniola. Wrote the eminent Harvard historian Samuel Eliot Morison in 1955, “The cruel policy initiated by Columbus and pursued by his successors resulted in complete genocide.”

Curiously, a much larger statue of the explorer once stood outside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End, paid for by the Knights of Columbus. In 1922, for reasons unclear, Cardinal William O’Connell summarily had it removed and trucked off to Revere, where it still stands before St. Anthony’s Church. Why the exile? An aesthetic decision? Or a powerful Irish-American prelate putting an upstart Roman Catholic community in its place? “It’s sort of hard not to think that something’s going on here,” speculates Drummey

Samuel Eliot Morison(1982, Penelope Jencks, Commonwealth Avenue Mall between Exeter and Fairfield streets). That eminent historian quoted above? He doesn’t get off scot-free, either. The author of dozens of popular histories, Morison (1887-1976) used language in his writings on slavery that chafed readers even in the 1920s, sentiments along the lines of “As for Sambo, whose wrongs moved the abolitionists to wrath and tears, there is some reason to believe that he suffered less than any other class in the South from its ‘peculiar institution’” (from “The Oxford History of the United States, 1783-1917”). Morison defended the use of such terms as “pickaninnies” on historical grounds, but after years of pressure from civil rights groups, he agreed to change the language in later editions of his works.






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