The troublesome task of choosing which inspiring women to memorialize in New York's Central Park.
Catholics are a little too into statues and other religious art. But Protestants are just a tad too worried about such things.
Now I know why.
This all started a few years back when cries went up for the removal of public memorials around the country, mainly Confederate Civil War generals. This was eminently understandable.
Then came a broader debate about public figures and how we choose to memorialize them -- statues and memorials, yes, but also university buildings, bridges, ball fields. All of this coincided with the rise of the so-called “cancel culture,” in which public figures who say or do terrible things lose public support, even if they are talented artists or performers.
Right about here is where some cultural big wigs in New York got big, bright light bulbs above their very-progressive noggins.
Rather than tear down old statues of historically bad public figures, let’s erect new ones to historically good but forgotten folks!
What could go wrong?
Let’s start in Central Park, where there are currently almost two dozen statues -- all of men. Among them, Samuel Morse, whose hatred of Irish Catholics makes Donald Trump sound like, well, Mother Cabrini. But more on her later.
A statue design honoring women’s rights pioneers Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony was revealed. Followed swiftly by the observation that those two women are white, so where is the acknowledgment that it was African American women who fought the longest, hardest struggle is the history of American democracy?
Enter a third figure in the memorial, seated across a table from Stanton -- black civil rights leader Sojourner Truth. It’s a small table, but it’s a good bet more folks will be asked to join these women before the statue is erected in Central Park next year.
For what it’s worth, neither Anthony nor Stanton had good things to say about the Irish. Or other immigrants. Or African Americans.
The duo’s magazine The Revolution featured plenty of “racist rhetoric” railing against “foreigners,” Holly Jackson writes in her new book American Radicals, adding that Stanton and Anthony “fomented outrage that men of color would soon have rights that were denied to white women.”
Stanton once expressed disgust that folks with names like “Patrick and Sambo and Hans and Yung Tung” would dare make laws that would have to be followed by (as Jackson writes) “educated, refined white women, whose grandfathers were heroes of the American Revolution.”
Three cheers for democracy!
Then there’s the Mother Cabrini kerfuffle, in which Bill “Is he still mayor?” de Blasio and his wife Chirlane McCray had their own well-intended idea about statues honoring women, only to be scolded by actor Chazz Palminteri because they decided (at first anyway) that Italian-born nun Mother Frances Cabrini -- the patron saint of immigrants, for heaven’s sake -- was not worthy of such an honor. Even though she got lots of support during the initial phase of the decision process.
Thankfully, there is no evidence Mother Cabrini also hated the Irish. Her boss -- New York Archbishop Michael Corrigan, the son of Irish immigrants -- did have this to say about Italians:
“For four years now, they have had free use of the basement of Father Lynch’s church... these poor devils are not very clean so that the others do not want to have them in the upstairs church. Otherwise, the others move out, and then goodbye the income.”
Maybe it’s time to chill out on all of these statues, until we come to accept that (Mother Cabrini notwithstanding) there are really no saints in public life. So we should stop expecting there to be.
As we should perhaps stop expecting every public memorial to be everything to everyone.
Until then, I know a table we can squeeze Mother Cabrini into.
But only if we can also squeeze in an Irish American honoree.
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