Removing the Jackson statues won’t erase our history
By Diane Euston
On November 3rd, Jackson County residents will have the opportunity to vote on whether to remove the two statues of Andrew Jackson that stand outside of our courthouses in Independence and Kansas City. At the pushing of County Executive Frank White, the issue was put on the ballot after citing that it should be a public conversation–a lesson learned from The Paseo.
The current climate and calls for racial justice make controversial monuments an easy target for vandalism. These statues are simply not safe outside our courthouses. Although it hasn’t been made clear what will happen to these statues if they are removed, my hope is that historians would be brought to the table to help contextualize our past and find a proper place for these statues to go permanently.
What factors exist that make someone so problematic that we no longer want to recognize them? This is the real question as it pertains to Andrew Jackson. Did he do more good than bad? He fought the British at 13; he is our only president who was a prisoner of war. He was a self-made, ambitious lawyer who was a celebrated general in the War of 1812- he successfully defended New Orleans from the British.
On the other hand, he owned over 150 slaves and was known for treating them harshly. He profited greatly off the backs of enslaved humans. He helped force the removal of at least 50,000 Native Americans and was a proponent of pushing them further west. Thousands died because of his actions.
He was called “the People’s President.” One could argue he was the white man’s president. Enslaved Blacks, displaced Native Americans and women certainly didn’t benefit from his actions.
Who in our history books in the 18th and 19th centuries wouldn’t be considered “controversial” today? This is certainly true. For example, Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. But did Jefferson write the Declaration of Independence – words that were later used to abolish slavery? Yes. Did Jefferson and the founding fathers do more good than harm? Of course.
To no surprise, everyone in the past is problematic in some way, because people are human. We need to take each monument one by one and ask ourselves if this person is worthy of celebration. A person being revered with a statue is simply a snapshot of time- Missourians in 1826 who chose the name Jackson County were very different from the people who are represented in our state – and our city–today.
We are just one of 22 counties named for Jackson in the United States. Twenty towns are also named for him, including Jacksonville, Fla. These names will not go away; we are not erasing Jackson from our history. We owe it to our history to see our past with clear eyes. Statues in public places should, in fact, represent the public and a public vote is the best possible means to that end.