The folks at my church had a healthy conversation about Confederate monuments, and similar symbols last week. On ZOOM, of course. Here’s a pretty thorough assessment of the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, VA. There are the whole point of Confederate monuments.
I love the issue of the Confederate statues and flags. There’s no ambiguity for me. My problem with the Confederate flag being removed from the Mississippi state flag is that it’s taken too long.
Frankly, I was unaware that military bases bore the names of Confederate traitors. Many veterans, military families, military leaders, and service people have called for the names to be changed. The Tweeter-in-Chief declared “I don’t care what the military says.”
But the discussion brought up two other angles that are more nuanced.
One is happening right in my city. The Philip Schuyler statue is to be removed from downtown Albany.
You fans of the musical Hamilton might be familiar with the man. He was Alexander Hamilton’s father-in-law, the father of Elizabeth, and 14 others.
Philip Schuyler was “reportedly the largest owner of enslaved people in Albany during his time.” But he also was a hero of the Battle of Saratoga. The Revolutionary War might have ended in another way without his leadership.
What will happen to the statue? One choice is to move it to the Schuyler Mansion right in Albany, where the proper historic context might be provided. Perhaps the State Museum, also in the city. Schuylerville’s mayor is lobbying to take possession of the 9½-foot (3-meter) bronze statue. The village is 45 miles to the north.
Separate from politics, removing the statue will possibly provide a much better traffic flow at that location. That junction is reliably dangerous for pedestrians in particular.
Is that all there is?
A broader question involves statues vs. systemic change. How much of a difference does tearing down monuments really make?. The Washington NFL team is changing its long-criticized mascot, for instance. “Symbols can be an easy out for powerful institutions still resistant to undoing systemic inequalities. But taken as a whole… the growing collection of fallen symbols is a sign of true progress, an early victory in what will be a long fight for fundamental change.”
Now, “at the national level, little progress has been made so far on sweeping policy reforms that would bring criminal justice, economic, health, and educational systems in line with protesters’ demands.” Of course, symbolic change is comparatively easy. Systemic change is hard, in part because it’s more difficult to agree on how to facilitate it.
One thought on “Philip Schuyler: Hero, enslaver, statue”
Of course, the question is, how far do we go according to what criteria. A substantial number of historical figures engaged in a whole variety of brutalities in addition to slavery. I’m thinking of genocide as well as things we would now consider war crimes. Part of the cost of social progress, it seems, is a recognition that many of “those who came before” engaged in behavior we now consider abhorrent. Senator Tammy Duckworth was posed this question about monuments to our Founders, including Washington and Jefferson. Historical context is tricky, certainly given the human propensity to romanticize “heroic” actions that were the benefit of a narrow demographic.