After several southern states began to tear down their statues commemorating the Confederacy and some of its most prominent figures, many in New York City began to take a closer look at some of the monuments that grace our own public spaces.
Borough President Eric Adams called for the streets at Fort Hamilton to be renamed, while in Astoria a statue dedicated to Christopher Columbus was defaced.
The edifices to the “Discover of the New World” were at the epicenter of the debate. While Columbus introduced Europe to the Western Hemisphere, his own treatment of Native Americans and the damage his “discovery” did to their way of life has increasingly become as much of the story as his explorative exploits.
Rather than make a decision during the heat of the argument, the mayor convened a panel of experts to review the city's monuments and make recommendations on how to proceed.
Not only did the commission come up with measured ideas, they have provided a framework on how such controversies can be handled should they arise in the future. The decision was taken out of the realm of politics, and placed in the hands of experts.
Some of the more controversial monuments, such as one to J. Marion Sims, who performed non-consensual medical experiments on women of color, will be removed. It will be transferred to Green-Wood Cemetery, which is quickly becoming the home for large, unwanted pieces of carved stone. (Anyone remember the “Triumph of Civic Virtue”?)
But statues like the one at Columbus Circle and another depicting Teddy Roosevelt at the American Museum of Natural History will stay, but be given more historical context, highlighting their achievements but also not ignoring their shortcomings.
And the commission recommended adding more monuments to the city, but his time focusing on important figures that history has overlooked, primarily people of color and women.
All in all, a thoughtful approach was the best way to settle this controversy. That's something we can all learn from.