“I’m not enthusiastic about people defacing anything, or having large groups tear statues down, but I understand the sense of anger sweeping the nation,” said Paul Finkelman, author of a book on slavery and the nation’s founders.
“If we’re going to have a statue for someone like Washington, including that obelisk we all know of in downtown Baltimore, we should put it in a broader context so we can learn from everything he did. Our heroes are never perfect. I want a conversation about all this.”
Finkelman, president of Gratz College in Philadelphia, is among historians who say if we’re going to continue displaying representations of men like Washington and Jefferson in public spaces, we should include features that reflect their darker qualities as well.
Martha S. Jones, a Johns Hopkins University professor who specializes in African American history, agrees.
“I take memorials to be a valorization,” said Jones, who unlike Finkelman is African American. “That absolutely requires us to take stock, collectively, of how we regard those figures. How did we regard them in their lifetimes, in the past, and how do we regard them today?”
The Washington statue isn’t the first monument in Baltimore to come under physical attack or face scrutiny in recent years.