A Whitewashed Monument to Women’s SuffrageRoundup
tags: New York, monuments, Womens Suffrage
Brent Staples is a member of the editorial board of the New York Times.
The New York City commission that oversees public artworks embraced a lily-white version of history in March when it approved a monument to the women’s rights movement that is scheduled to be unveiled in Central Park next year.
The two white women depicted in sculpture — Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony — played influential roles in the 19th-century struggle for women’s suffrage. But the duo also represented a classist and often racist faction of the movement that declined to accept African-Americans as equals.
Stanton invoked white supremacist slanders when she opposed the 15th Amendment — which ostensibly granted black men the right to vote — casting men of color as “Sambos,” tyrants and incipient rapists. She and Anthony compounded that offense by rendering black suffragists nearly invisible in “History of Woman Suffrage,” the multivolume history that still dominates popular thinking on the early women’s rights struggle.
It would repeat that insult to feature these two women alone in Central Park’s first suffrage monument. To do so would also make the city seem willfully blind to the work of black women who served at the vanguard of the fight for universal rights — and whose achievements have already shaped suffrage monuments in other cities.
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