Shakespeare, in his play about Julius Caesar, had Mark Anthony say, “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” We’re seeing a lot of that these days.
Statues of men that were erected to commemorate good things they did are now being pulled down and sent to the trash heap because of bad things they also did.
Christopher Columbus bravely sailed out on the unknown sea, risking belief that he would fall off the edge of the earth, and proved that the world was round and new lands existed here. Naturally, we put up statues of him.
But, yo! He mistreated and killed people who lived in these new lands. Let’s tear down those statues. That’ll fix him.
In fact, most of those guys who founded this country did a lot of things most Americans today don’t approve of.
George Washington led the army that liberated this body of land on a new continent from its foreign control, and was elected to be its first leader. Naturally, his countrymen put up statues of him.
Hey, wait. He bought and sold people, and considered them inferior because their skin was a different color. Let’s get rid of those statues of George.
And how about Benjamin Franklin. He did an amazing number of things in his day. There are at least nine statues of him in Philly, including the colossal one at the Franklin Institute.
There are three statues of him on the University of Pennsylvania campus, another at Ninth and Chestnut, a bust at the Art Museum, one in a toga at the American Philosophical Society, one shaking hands with George Washington outside Masonic Temple, one operating his printing press near the Municipal Services building, and maybe a few others here and there.
But Franklin through the years had six slaves in his house. Obviously, those statues of him have all got to come down.
Oh, wait a minute. In 1787, Franklin became president of the new “Philadelphia Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage” (usually called the Abolition Society).
And a few months before his death in 1790, Franklin, at age 84, petitioned the U. S. Congress to outlaw slavery. A committee studied the idea and dismissed it.
The mostly Quaker founders of Philadelphia were among the world’s first opponents of the enslavement of Africans, and declared in 1696 that no more slaves would be imported here. (Though you didn’t see any stampede to get rid of the people they already “owned.”)
Through the 17th century, slavery was a constant issue, typified by the petition against slavery by Francis Samuel Pastorius of Germantown, presented to the Friends Yearly Meeting in Philadelphia, which asked the question, “Have not these Negroes as much right to fight for their freedom as you have to keep them as slaves?”
The issues, and people, then and now, are complicated. But we should really do something about it.
So, let’s pull down some statues of deceased people who didn’t behave the way we would like. That will be a real step forward.
And, William Penn had a whole bunch of slaves at his place up the river at Pennsbury. If people are going to trash the statues of all the slave owners from colonial times, I can’t wait to see how they get rid of that statue 548 feet up on the tower of City Hall. Visit columnist Jim Smart’s web site at jamessmartsphiladelphia.com.
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