Washington City Hall and White House split over fate of monuments with names associated with slavery

The mayoress of Washington returned Wednesday on a project consisting of renaming or “putting in context” several emblematic federal monuments of the American capital, in the face of the outcry caused by these recommendations deemed “grotesque” by the White House.

A municipal commission had recommended renaming some fifty schools and parks in the city bearing the names of historical figures linked in particular to the slavery or racist past of the United States, in the midst of a national debate on the painful history of the country.

It also recommended to “rename, remove or put in context” several monuments of the city, including the famous obelisk in honor of George Washington, father of the Nation, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, one of the authors of the Declaration of independence, or a statue of Christopher Columbus.

America’s first and third presidents did indeed own slaves, while the discoverer of America is seen by many as a symbol of the violent colonization of the continent by Europeans.

But the page concerning these monuments, located on federal territory, had been withdrawn Wednesday morning.

Mayor Muriel Bowser asked the commission “to clarify and refine its recommendations to focus on the city, so that no one tries to confuse the task force’s objective. [qui est] the contextualization and not the removal of important monuments and memorials ”, explained his spokesperson in a statement.

Strong criticism

The White House had castigated Tuesday evening “grotesque recommendations” and the will of the Democratic mayor to “demolish our history and destroy our great heritage”.

In its report, the commission indicates that its task is “to ensure that the public and personal points of view” of the personalities who have given their names to these monuments “have not contributed to the history of the nation in matters of ‘slavery, racism and other prejudices’.

The list includes the names of former presidents such as Woodrow Wilson, founding father of the League of Nations (ancestor of the UN) but who had authorized racial segregation within the government.

It also includes Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone and proponent of eugenics, and Francis Scott Key, author of the poem. The Star-Spangled Banner (The star-spangled banner) became the American national anthem, and which defended slavery in the United States.

David Farber, the historian at the University of Kansas, considered that “few historical figures were without deep flaws from a modern point of view.”

“But a few, like Jefferson, Franklin, and Washington, fought for a better society, even though they often accepted the appalling conventions of their time or even benefited from them,” he told AFP.

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