A Monumental Post

1 May

I have this bad habit of planning one kind of post but ending up writing another kind. This serious post about prejudice has been floating around my head all day. It probably stems from Jason Collins, the NBA player who just announced that he is gay. However, it also stems from an article in The Tennessean, Nashville’s daily newspaper.

A monument is being erected to honor the young people who staged sit-in’s in Nashville during the Civil Rights movement. One of the artists who is being considered was born in China. Apparently, one of the original protesters believes that a Chinese kid from California isn’t qualified to create a monument to him and his fellow protesters. The Chinese part is the only thing he got right. The lady is middle-aged and lives in West Virginia. I guess prejudice can come from anyone – even those who faced it and fought against it.

People tend to get upset over monuments for some reason. Last night, there was a documentary on television about the Vietnam Memorial in Washington. People didn’t like it because they thought it ugly. Now, more people visit The Wall than any other monument in the city.Vietnam Memorial

Also, I seem to remember some people getting upset because the Franklin Roosevelt Memorial did not address his paralysis. FDR went to a great deal of effort to hide that from the public, but there is now a statue with him in a wheelchair.Franklin Roosevelt

I understand that activists for the disabled believe that his paralysis should be shown as an example that obstacles can be overcome. However, the monument honors him and he did not want that displayed. Are monuments about the person being honored or about the people who are doing the honoring?

Maybe we shouldn’t put monuments up at all. Usually, the subjects are already dead, so they don’t mind. On top of that, do monuments really add anything to our knowledge of the people? Do we learn more about George Washington at that big obelisk or at Mount Vernon?Washington Monument

Also, monuments tend to turn humans into god-like beings. The Abraham Lincoln depicted at the Lincoln Memorial is this giant figure sitting on a throne. The Abraham Lincoln depicted at his home in Springfield, Illinois is quite a different character.

Thomas Jefferson has a bunch of monuments. Of course, there is the one in Washington, but did you know that the Arch in St. Louis in a Jefferson Memorial, too? I have never been in the Arch, but I have been in the underground museum that covers westward expansion. I get the feeling that when people drive by the Arch they don’t think about Jefferson. They probably think about him when they got to Monticello, however.

I have come to the conclusion that monuments cause people to get upset as much as they cause people to come together. A Confederate monument put up in the 1890s doesn’t convey the same message these days. The monument to the presidents at Mount Rushmore doesn’t make Native Americans very happy. After all, it was carved into one of their sacred sites.Mount Rushmore

It’s not like monuments are going to last forever, anyway. How many buildings named in honor of people have been demolished? How many graveyards have been forgotten and grown over? How many Indian mounds have been dug up? How many Pharaoh graves have been looted?

I’m not sure how to end this post, so I’ll do it with a quote by Tommy Douglas, a prominent Canadian politician.

“I don’t mind being a symbol, but I don’t want to become a monument. There are monuments all over the Parliament buildings, and I’ve seen what the pigeons do to them.”

8 Responses to “A Monumental Post”

  1. satanicpanic May 1, 2013 at 04:27 #

    I visited Spain and their countryside is littered with castles, which is totally cool, but I wonder if places like that don’t hesitate to put up new monuments knowing they’ll be bequeathing people stuff to maintain 500 years from now. Americans don’t really have tons of things from 1000-2000 years ago, so we tend to hold onto random things, like childhood homes of famous people. Or carve faces into mountains.

    • Rick May 1, 2013 at 04:45 #

      That’s an interesting view. They understand what it’s like to take care of old stuff and don’t want to add more. There’s a bunch of cool stuff in Europe, though.

  2. Diane Mawr May 2, 2013 at 14:15 #

    This is food for thought, certainly. I am so moved, though, by monuments. It isn’t just the sculpture or building, though generally these are beautiful. Monuments are always accompanied by information – about the time, the perspectives and with liberal quotes from the person or persons themselves that many tourists may not have seen or heard before. It is a way of sharing posthumously those thoughts and deeds that make the memory of those who have passed known to generations future. There are other ways of passing the information, but these monuments inspire by sight and sound and thought, perhaps moving us in ways that are not as much about the memory of the PERSON, but the memory and knowledge of what that person left for us to carry forward.

    • Rick May 2, 2013 at 14:36 #

      I think monuments are a matter of perspective. People view them differently depending on who we are. Many people tend to make monuments about themselves rather than the people being honored. But, maybe that’s the point in the first place.

      • Diane Mawr May 2, 2013 at 14:39 #

        I agree with what you are saying. I believe this would be an excellent topic for discussion at a dinner party! Thanks for the post, always good to get my thinking hat on first thing 🙂

  3. DyingNote May 5, 2013 at 12:07 #

    Monuments often deify good human beings. I generally don’t care much for them except for when they arouse curiosity. Very, very well-written piece this.

    • Rick May 5, 2013 at 13:51 #

      Thank you. Deify is an excellent word. Humans are interesting because of our triumphs and failings. Monuments tend to mask half of that.

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