By Edward Epstein
Published Feb. 18, 2021
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has launched a public review of 41 monuments she calls problematic, a process that could result in the removal of five statues of Abraham Lincoln.
The mayor on Feb. 17 unveiled a website, chicagomonuments.org, that shows photos of all the monuments that were selected by the Chicago Monuments Project Advisory Committee. The public is being invited to weigh in on what should be done about the statues, if anything. In addition to Lincoln, the list of historical figures includes three other presidents, George Washington, U.S. Grant and William McKinley.
The Chicago Sun-Times said, “Reasons for making the list include promoting narratives of white supremacy; presenting an inaccurate or demeaning portrayal of Native Americans; celebrating people with connections to slavery, genocide or racist acts; or 'presenting selective, over-simplified, one-sided views of history.'”
“The project website does not note which criteria might apply to any specific monument or statue,” the paper added.
Lincoln’s ties with Chicago ran deep. As a lawyer, he argued many cases in courts in the city. He turned down an offer of a law partnership in Chicago, preferring to stay at his home in Springfield, the state capital. The Republican convention of 1860 that nominated him for the presidency was held in the city and on May 1 and 2 1865 his funeral train stopped in the city. On May 2, it was estimated that mourners passed by Lincoln’s coffin at the rate of 7,000 an hour. The train left for Springfield, and Lincoln’s burial that evening.
The five statues of Lincoln include two created by the noted 19th century sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens. One of the statues, the standing Lincoln in Lincoln Park along Chicago’s lakefront, has been duplicated in Parliament Square outside the Houses of Parliament in London, England.
The city’s announcement of the review didn’t say what might become of the statues, or give a timeline for decisions. But it did invite residents to sign up to participate in discussions about the statues.
The review comes a few months after Chicago renamed Stephen Douglas Park on the city’s heavily African-American West Side as Frederick Douglass Park. And the state of Illinois removed a statue of Douglas, the Democratic senator from Illinois who ran against Lincoln for the senate in 1858, from the state capitol’s grounds in Springfield.
The Sun-Times said that “the city did not say how the feedback will be used in regards to existing monuments. Some have said art that honors racist figures should be removed, but others, including Lightfoot, have been hesitant to commit to taking down such work.”
The Chicago move comes a few weeks after the school board in San Francisco voted to remove the 16th president’s name from Lincoln High School, a vote that has stirred a lot of debate.