An iconoclast movement that began with the destruction of Confederate statues has now morphed into an anti-Founders campaign, with statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson having been toppled in recent days.
Protesters tore down statues of Washington and Jefferson in Portland, Ore., in the last 10 days, while in San Francisco, protesters last week ripped down a statue of Francis Scott Key, who wrote the lyrics to America’s national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner.
The statues of all three men were targeted because they owned slaves. Jefferson and Washington questioned the morality of slavery but owned hundreds of slaves during their lives. (Jefferson called slavery a “moral depravity” and a “hideous blot.”) Washington famously had his slaves freed after his wife’s death.
According to The Oregonian, Protesters in Oregon on June 14 tore down a statue of Jefferson that stood in front of a high school named for him. On June 18, protesters burned an American flag on the top of a Washington statue before pulling it down. They also wrote “genocidal colonist” on the base. It stood at Northeast Sandy Boulevard and 57th Avenue in Portland.
Last Friday (June 19), protesters in San Francisco tore down a statue of Key, along with ones of Catholic missionary St. Junipero Serra and President Ulysses S. Grant.
Serra founded nine Catholic missions in the area, and “many of those missions would go on to become the centers of major California cities,” according to Catholic News Agency. He also “helped to convert thousands of native Californians to Christianity and taught them new agricultural technologies,” CNA said.
Grant was the Civil War general who helped defeat the confederacy. The toppling of his statue sparked criticism, mockery and even anger on social media. Although Grant inherited a male slave from his father-in-law, he freed him. Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist and former slave, supported Grant and credited him for freeing the slaves.
“Lost Cause meet Crazy Cause: using Juneteenth to tear down of the San Fran. statue of Ulysses S. Grant – who won the Civil War that led to emancipation, long before had freed the 1 slave he had been given & who was later eulogized by Frederick Douglass,” Politico’s Marc Caputo tweeted.
Lost Cause meet Crazy Cause: using Juneteenth to tear down of the San Fran. statue of Ulysses S. Grant —who won the Civil War that led to emancipation, long before had freed the 1 slave he had been given & who was later eulogized by Frederick Douglasspic.twitter.com/SjArCUYlQR— Marc Caputo (@MarcACaputo) June 20, 2020
U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw linked to a story about the Grant statue and tweeted, “It is time to cancel Cancel Culture. This has to stop. It has no end. It is a violent purge of all things – art, speech, history – that don’t conform to the radical progressive religion. Wake up America. Hold the line.”
It is time to cancel Cancel Culture. This has to stop. It has no end. It is a violent purge of all things - art, speech, history - that don’t conform to the radical progressive religion. Wake up America. Hold the line. #cancelcancelculturehttps://t.co/zO0BKjFgSb— Dan Crenshaw (@DanCrenshawTX) June 22, 2020
One twitter user wrote, “Virtually no historical figure will pass the woke purity test. Here’s a clue. History means things happened years ago. Years ago life was different. In some ways life was wrong. It doesn’t mean we should erase it. Learn from it.”
Virtually no historical figure will pass the woke purity test. Here’s a clue. History means things happened years ago. Years ago life was different. In some ways life was wrong. It doesn’t mean we should erase it. Learn from it.— Chad Tindell (@cbtindell) June 22, 2020
One of the protesters who tore down the Jefferson statue told Willamette Week, a Portland alternative newspaper, that the monument should have been removed long ago. The newspaper kept the man’s identification anonymous. A statue of Jefferson, he said, should not be standing in front of a predominantly African American high school.
“It was a joyous moment,” the protestor said. “It didn't feel like full of hate or a desire to destroy. It felt like the community just spontaneously got together to do this thing that needed to be done in that moment. … We were doing this thing that should've been done, that people in charge aren't doing.”
President Trump, speaking during his Tulsa, Okla., rally, criticized the Washington and Jefferson statue removals and also referenced the targeting of Christopher Columbus statues. He called the protesters “leftist radicals.”
Photo courtesy: Joe Mabel/Creative Commons; Image cropped and resized.
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.