On June 2 the Boston Preservation Alliance released a brief statement of our solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. We pledged to use our platform to share a more holistic, honest, and inclusive history that amplifies Black perspectives and those of other marginalized minorities. That statement was the first step in our journey to re-examine what stories we tell, whom we honor and celebrate, and to amplify the histories that have been minimized and outright excluded. Today we take our second step on this journey as we work to make space for these long-neglected voices. As we listen more closely to the perspectives of Black Bostonians, we recognize more clearly than ever that the stories of the past we choose to tell and the ways we choose to tell them have a direct impact on people’s lives. We often extol the value of historic places to motivate and empower, but we rarely recognize the paradoxical influence of these histories and the people we choose to honor—myopic choices that have subjugated and diminished self-worth. Today many of us are finally acknowledging this impact of our work.
Last week the National Trust for Historic Preservation issued a bold statement regarding its position with regard to the removal of Confederate monuments. A key paragraph struck a chord with the Boston Preservation Alliance staff and directors:
“Although Confederate monuments are sometimes designated as historic, and while many were erected more than a century ago, the National Trust supports their removal from our public spaces when they continue to serve the purposes for which many were built—to glorify, promote, and reinforce white supremacy, overtly or implicitly. While some have suggested that removal may result in erasing history, we believe that removal may be necessary to achieve the greater good of ensuring racial justice and equality. And their history needs not end with their removal: we support relocation of these monuments to museums or other places where they may be preserved so that their history as elements of Jim Crow and racial injustice can be recognized and interpreted.”
While Confederate Monuments are not as much of an issue here in Boston, as we’ve watched events unfold around the world and here too, it’s clear that in this city—we too—must confront and address racist symbolism. The Boston Preservation Alliance acknowledges that the anguish symbols of racism have caused to the Black community for generations must end. We must recognize that these symbols have inflicted daily pain on many, empowered (and continue to empower) racist ideologies, and for too many of us have been dismissed as simple reflections of a past or works of art for which their negative aspects could be ignored. These are chapters in our nation’s history that we must confront and learn from. We cannot continue the same blind stance that ignores the ideals that so many of these monuments extol, the goals they pursued, or the impact they have on our fellow Bostonians.
Some statues and memorials here have been defaced as long-held emotions and animosity against their painful symbolism have driven action, however, equally powerful and convincing Black voices ask for substantive change. They ask our city to admit our culpability in the activities that brought us to this point, to recognize our blindness when we were encouraged to see how these monuments impact Black people and those of other marginalized minorities, and today to reassess whom we celebrate and how. For example, while President Lincoln should be honored, in today’s context is it more harmful than beneficial for Emancipation to be celebrated in such a public forum with the image of a Black man subserviently kneeling? These are important questions for the community to address, and we welcome the possibility of change driven by Black voices.
The time has come for a robust, community-led dialog about monuments in the public square. The time has come to determine whether now is the time for some to be removed to a place where they can stand as educational artifacts that foster difficult but much-needed conversations around our country’s deep entanglement with the horrors of racist ideologies. We must make space for more voices and we must listen to those imploring for a much-needed transformation in the way we think about our history. We welcome the opportunity to be a part of that process.
Statement from the National Trust