Panel examines Boston monuments for legacy

A discussion on Boston monuments took place Dec. 11 at the Boston Public Library. (From left) Meg Campbell of the Boston Women’s Heritage Trail, Wing-kai To of the Chinese Historical Society of New England, L’Merchie Frazier of the Museum of African American History. (Image courtesy of Ling-Mei Wong.)

A discussion on Boston monuments from an equity perspective took place Dec. 11 at the Boston Public Library, attracting about 150 attendees.

The event was co-sponsored by Boston City Council President Michelle Wu and the Boston Women’s Heritage Trail.

“We in Boston are aware of our role as historic city, as we hold an important place in the story of our country and many of our communities,” Wu said. “As we look around the city and see statues and monuments, we may notice something’s missing, for groups and communities who are not as recognizably part of the social fabric and the story of our city.”

Author, historian and photographer Susan Wilson gave a brief history of Boston monuments to notable people in public spaces. Local Bostonians such as Paul Revere, Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Adams constitute the bulk of statues, dubbed “white men on pedestals” by Wilson. There are far fewer statues of women and black people in Boston, immortalizing outspoken colonial Quaker Mary Dyer, abolitionist Harriet Tubman and Celtics legend Bill Russell. Just one statue of a Chinese person exists, the bronze Confucius statue on Tyler Street undergoing repairs.

Wu moderated a panel with representatives from the Boston Women’s Heritage Trail, the Museum of African American History and the Chinese Historical Society of New England (CHSNE).

CHSNE vice president Wing-kai To said, “History keeps being rewritten. We didn’t look at the Chinese because they were invisible, until after 1965.”

The Boston Women’s Heritage Trail began in 1989, when Meg Campbell’s school-age daughter visited the Statehouse, saw the countless male statues and asked where the women were. “It’s not just statues, but school names, street names and parks,” Campbell said. “I would like a moratorium on white men until we catch up, for women and people of color.”

L’Merchie Frazier of the Museum of African American History said she dreamed of seeing statues Martin Luther King and Frederick Douglass on the streets of Boston, for their contributions to peace and activism. She also hoped for greater representation as well for artwork and artists creating the work.

“Many of us are not at the table to make the decision,” Frazier said. “Like anything else we believe in, we have to advocate.”

The Boston Art Commission meets monthly and takes submissions for public art. A Robert E. Lee memorial commissioned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy on Georges Island was moved to state archives in October.

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About Ling-Mei Wong 黃靈美

Editor of the Sampan, the only bilingual Chinese-English newspaper in New England 舢舨報紙總編輯。舢舨是全紐英倫唯一的中英雙語雙週報。
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