With Dizzying Speed, Calls for Removal of Monuments Deemed Racist Or Insensitive Grow Across U.S.

The statue of the late Mayor Frank Rizzo outside the Municipal Services Building in Philadelphia. A city councilwoman has called for the monument’s removal. (Credit: Matt Rourke/Associated Press)
The statue of the late Mayor Frank Rizzo outside the Municipal Services Building in Philadelphia. A city councilwoman has called for the monument’s removal. (Credit: Matt Rourke/Associated Press)

It began with calls to remove Confederate generals.

But since the violence in Charlottesville, Va., two weeks ago, the anger from the left over monuments and public images deemed racist, insensitive or inappropriate has quickly spread to statues of Christopher Columbus and the former Philadelphia tough cop mayor Frank Rizzo, Boston’s landmark Faneuil Hall, a popular Chicago thoroughfare and even Maryland’s state song. An Asian-American sportscaster named Robert Lee was pulled from broadcasting a University of Virginia football game so as not to offend viewers.

The disputes over America’s racial past and public symbols have proliferated with dizzying speed, spreading to states far beyond the Confederacy and inspiring campaigns by minorities and political progressives across the country. But along the way, they have become to some an example of politically correct sentiments gone too far, with the potential to mobilize the right and alienate the center.

Paul Begala, the Democratic strategist, said his party was “driving straight into a trap Trump has set,” because the president seeks to shift the focus away from comments he made about white supremacists to his charge that opponents are trying to “take away our history.”

“While I understand the pain those monuments cause,” said Mr. Begala, who was an adviser to President Bill Clinton, “I just think it in some ways dishonors the debate to allow Trump to hijack it.”

New disputes seem to be springing up daily.

In a Democratic mayoral candidates’ debate in New York on Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio did not rule out removing Manhattan’s 76-foot Columbus Circle monument as the city reviews “symbols of hate.”

Philadelphia placed barricades and guards around a statue of Mr. Rizzo, loathed by some African-Americans for his harsh tactics toward blacks in the city, after protesters surrounded the bronze edifice and a city councilwoman, Helen Gym, wrote on Twitter, “Take the Rizzo statue down.”

Mr. Rizzo, who died in 1991, cultivated a law-and-order image as a police commissioner that included raiding gay clubs and once forcing Black Panthers to strip naked in the street.

“Just because Philadelphia wasn’t a part of the Confederacy doesn’t mean we get a pass,” Ms. Gym said in an interview. She is less concerned about turning off voters who support the president than in rousing members of the Democratic base, including minorities, who did not vote in November.

“My concern is about the number of people who stayed home, who felt government doesn’t speak for them,” she said. “I’m trying to show government can be reflective in a time of anguish.”

In Chicago, a campaign is underway to remove a monument to Italo Balbo, an Italian air marshal, which the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini presented to the city in 1933. Balbo Drive is a well-known street in the heart of downtown.

In Boston, there are calls for renaming historic Faneuil Hall because Peter Faneuil, who donated the building to the city in 1743, was a slave owner and trader.

Columbus, who, most Americans learn rather innocently, in 1492 sailed the ocean blue until he discovered the New World, has undergone a revisionist treatment in recent decades because of his impact on native peoples.

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