top of page

The Misguided Idea of Targeting Abraham Lincoln and Other Statues

By David J. Kent

Washington D.C.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

San Francisco targets Abraham Lincoln schools for renaming. Chicago targets Abraham Lincoln and other statues for possible removal. DC Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton introduces a bill to remove the Emancipation Memorial statue in Washington, D.C. These efforts are severely misguided, based on political expediency rather than an informed discussion of Lincoln and other past American leaders.

I’ve been addressing the issues surrounding removal, and consideration of removal, of Confederate statues across the nation. There is a rational case for removing Confederate statues. There is no rational case for removing Abraham Lincoln statues.

The motives are understandable and I strongly encourage an open and honest discussion of problematic statues. In my “rational case” post I explained that there are three time periods reflected by, and must be considered, for every statue: the subject, the motive and timing of erection, and the present. Norton’s bill to remove the Emancipation Memorial statue is based almost entirely on the present perspective. While many believe that present perspective overrides the two earlier perspectives, proponents of removing the statue are obligated to make that case in a public forum, not by arbitrarily passing a bill by politicians without any interest in the discussion or the outcome, i.e., 99%+ of the House Representatives and Senators who would vote on the bill. Norton would better serve her constituents by using her power to garner news coverage, input from the city, from the National Park Service (who owns the statue, hence the need for a law before it can be removed or augmented), and a much needed discussion of the larger issues beyond the presence of the statue. This last point is critical and I’ll return to it shortly.

While the Emancipation Memorial is controversial because of its inherent design elements (Boston removed its copy of the statue for this reason), the actions by San Francisco and Chicago have no such controversies stimulating their actions. Instead, they are acting based on misrepresentation of Lincoln’s attitudes and actions.

San Francisco has every right to name, or rename, schools within their jurisdiction. Their far-ranging list of names they want to move away from includes several U.S. Presidents, the current California Senator (who was once Mayor of San Francisco), environmentalist John Muir, and many others (you can see a spreadsheet of the names and reasons for targeting here). While some of the reasons are potentially persuasive, others border on the ridiculous.

[Photo credit: Lincoln statue in Chicago taken by David J. Kent, 2019]

bottom of page