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VIDEO | 03:50
Patt Says: Time for Monumental Change

Patt Says: Time for Monumental Change

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Racist figures and symbols are getting pulled down as fast in the United States as statues of Lenin did after the Berlin Wall fell. High time, and long overdue -- these are powerful and righteous acts.

Revealingly, most Confederate monuments – memorials to losers and traitors – were put up long after the Civil War: at the turn of the century, with a slew of Jim Crow laws, and then in the 1950s and ‘60s, in defiance of the Supreme Court’s landmark school integration ruling and the Civil Rights movement.

But you can’t change history by obliterating it, and I think there’s room to be more creative about this.

In Olvera Street, as native Americans burned white sage, a statue of Father Junipero Serra hit the dirt.

He founded the California missions, which pledged to save souls but ravaged native American culture and virtually enslaved its people. So Serra’s story might be better turned into a statue and story of Toypurina, the heroic Tongva woman who led a revolt against the San Gabriel Mission in 1785 because of what the padres did to her land and people.

Imagine a corrective statuary history: monuments whose plaques are written from the point of view of the people they had wronged.

A Dallas real estate investor bought statues of tyrants and dictators like Stalin and Castro and Romania’s Ceaucescu, and set them up in his garden.

We could create a national statuary garden of our home-grown villains, like the Confederate general who started the KKK. Tell their true and terrible history, and also paintball them all in ridiculous Easter-egg pastels.

People in San Francisco also pulled down a statue of Ulysses S. Grant. And here’s where wisdom says, “Hold on a minute.”

Grant’s father-in-law owned slaves, and Grant himself owned one slave whom he freed before the Civil War. But then, as general, Grant crushed the Confederate armies, and as president, he backed laws to cripple the KKK and defend the political rights of newly enfranchised Black men. Was Grant just as bad, then, as the Confederate general and slave trader who founded the KKK?

New York is retiring a statue of Teddy Roosevelt on horseback, flanked by a Black man and a Native American on foot.

It really is an ugly piece of white triumphalism. But that doesn’t mean that Roosevelt doesn’t deserve some memorial – as the president who broke up ruthless monopolies, who created labor, food and drug protections -- and as the first president to invite a Black man, the scientist and former slave Booker T. Washington, to dine at the White House.

Some of this is just heedless destruction. In Madison, Wisconsin, the statue of an immigrant, who hunted down the men who tried to catch runaway slaves, and who died fighting against slavery in the Civil War – that statue was pulled down and tossed in a river. Shameful and ignorant.

The best lesson is that hereafter, we’ll evaluate monuments for how well they tell the story not just of one of us, but of all of us. Think of the Vietnam Memorial, honoring not some general, but memorializing equally, without regard to rank, every service member’s life lost there.

And as for the metal in those toppled statues – let it finally do something good. Turn it into earthquake rebar.