- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 25, 2020

Mary McLeod Bethune, a member of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Black Cabinet,” stands on a memorial with two children alongside her in Lincoln Park. An educator who founded the National Council of Negro Women, Bethune was the first Black person and first woman to be so honored on public land.

Facing her statue is the Emancipation Memorial, showing President Lincoln and, kneeling beside him, the likeness of Arthur Alexander, a slave born in Virginia who was one of the last slaves captured under the Fugitive Slave Act.

If the Emancipation Memorial is defaced, destroyed or removed from its prominence of Capitol Hill, so too would the history of African and Caribbean Americans.

In short, out of sight, out of mind.

The protestations favoring the destruction of anything and everyone tied to the Confederacy, America’s Civil War, are in denial.

What the Founding Fathers did with slaves and slavery is undeniable. No picking peaches by slaves, no milk and cream for plantation owners.

No slaves, immigrants and indentured servants building the President’s House and the U.S. Capitol Building, nation’s capital history and we know it.

Not only would that history be torn asunder, but so would the white- and black-washing of the Emancipation Memorial.

See, did you know that self-taught surveyor and astronomer Benjamin Banneker, a free Black, help to dot the I’s and cross the T’s of the nation’s capital? And did you know that the Emancipation Memorial was skewed to face Bethune and the little kids?

Here’s a bit of what former slave, abolitionist, orator and statesman Frederick Douglass said in his keynote address the day of the memorial’s unveiling in April 1876: “His great mission was to accomplish two things: first, to save his country from dismemberment and ruin; and second, to free his country from the great crime of slavery. To do one or the other, or both, he must have the earnest sympathy and the powerful co-operation of his loyal fellow-countrymen. Without this primary and essential condition to success his efforts must have been vain and utterly fruitless. Had he put the abolition of slavery before the salvation of the Union, he would have inevitably driven from him a powerful class of the American people and rendered resistance to rebellion impossible. Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined.”

The funding for the memorial reportedly began with a $5 donation by former slave Charlotte Scott, who lived in Ohio.

Said the National Park Service: “The funds were collected solely from freed slaves (primarily from African American Union veterans).”

The tightly woven history of Black people has, blessedly, been on display for anyone and everyone to see, teach and learn at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened in 2016, more than 85 years President Herbert Hoover, Bethune and others sought federal support from Congress. They didn’t receive it.

The fact that the museum is located on Constitution Avenue and along the National Mall was no small miracle — we all know the significance of L’Enfant’s grand boulevard grid.

What’s more important, though, is that debasing and destroying statues representing what was will speak so loudly in history that it will overwhelm and unveil the ugliest of future histories about America.

It’s OK to protect our history, tell our history, even redirect our future. After all, that memorial to Lincoln as “the Great Emancipator” and Alexander as representative of shackled and unshackled slaves is a powerful testament to African Americans’ past, present and future.

Black Entertainment Television (BET) founder Robert Johnson got it right the other day on Fox News when he said, “Look, the people who are basically tearing down statues, trying to make a statement are basically borderline anarchists, the way I look at it. They really have no agenda other than the idea we’re going to topple a statue.

“It’s not going to give a kid whose parents can’t afford college money to go to college,” he said. “It’s not going to close the labor gap between what White workers are paid and what Black workers are paid. And it’s not going to take people off welfare or food stamps.”

Let the statues be.

Deborah Simmons can be contacted at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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