There has been enormous controversy of late about the fact that a good many of our old statues were erected to honour people whose lives contain some rather unpleasant details, hiding away and hopefully forgotten, or even not noticed in all the glory and the wonderfulness.
Arguably, this phenomenon may have had its origins in England years and years ago with the controversy about Jimmy Savile, that favourite son of the BBC and of their audiences. Wikipedia says…..
“He raised an estimated £40 million for charities and, during his lifetime, was widely praised for his personal qualities and as a fund-raiser.”
But he had a very large and dirty secret…….
“After his death, hundreds of allegations of sexual abuse were made against him, leading the police to conclude that Savile had been a predatory sex offender—possibly one of Britain’s most prolific. There had been allegations during his lifetime, but they were dismissed and accusers ignored or disbelieved.”
Here’s Savile with Cardinal O’Brien, a man who, according to the Guardian newspaper at least, had “admitted in general terms to sexual conduct that had “fallen beneath the standards expected of me”.”:
So what was done?
“Within a month of the child abuse scandal emerging, many places and organisations named after or connected to Savile were renamed or had his name removed. A memorial plaque on the wall of Savile’s former home in Scarborough was removed in early October 2012 after it was defaced with graffiti. A wooden statue of Savile at Scotstoun Leisure Centre in Glasgow was also removed around the same time. Signs on a footpath in Scarborough named “Savile’s View” were removed. Savile’s Hall, the conference centre at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, was renamed “New Dock Hall.”
You can read about the two sides of this very strange and sad man here.
Here’s Savile’s Hall in Leeds. I took this picture years ago while we waited for the coach to come and pick us up. I must confess, I was attracted by young Marilyn. I’m sorry about the blurry focus but my hand was shaking:
People guilty of child abuse are a relatively easy target to identify. So are those with a background in slavery. Having “slavery” appear on your CV is not good.
And both slavery and child abuse are, of course, huge “no-no”s if you want a statue of yourself to be erected somewhere after your death.
A large number of Kings and Queens of England have been enthusiastic buyers and sellers of slaves. I have written two blog posts about this subject. Here’s a link to one, and here’s a link to the other.
The guilty parties included:
Queen Elizabeth the First, the family of King Charles II, King Charles II, King James II, Queen Anne, King George I. King George II, King George III, King George IV and King William IV.
It wasn’t just our beloved Royal Family though. It was ten of the first twelve Presidents of the United States. (Well done, John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams.) The guilty parties were George Washington (317 slaves), Thomas Jefferson (600+), James Madison (100+), James Monroe (75), Andrew Jackson (200), Martin van Buren (1), William Henry Harrison (11), John Tyler (70), James Polk, (25) and Zachary Taylor (less than 150).
Zachary Taylor was the last president-in-office to own slaves and Ulysses S. Grant was the last president to have ever owned a slave. This picture shows a president and his slaves at cotton picking time, but the internet seems a little confused about which one:
What superb irony that Thomas Jefferson won the slave owning contest with a minimum of 600 slaves.
He was the man who wrote if not the most beautiful sentence in the English language, then certainly the most important:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
In my scheme of things the people above may well lose their statues. That’s a lot of statues to take down. Slavery was not illegal in those days, but the 25-or-so people listed above would all have said they were Christians and putting it bluntly,
Jesus Christ did not keep slaves.
Just look at the expressions on these faces. Even the dogs are sad.
One major point to be made before we finish is that the descendants of slaves, in a great many countries of the world, do not want continually to be reminded of how their ancestors were mistreated in one of the great crimes of human history but instead they want to look forward to a better life. And I would be OK with that too.
What I think is that it would be a good idea to have the controversial statues put in a museum with explanations about why these previously valued men and women have been removed from public gaze. People would then have the choice of looking at them, or not.