Abraham Lincoln was one of the earliest members of the Illinois State Society of Washington, DC, which was founded in 1854. The oldest of the state and territorial societies in Washington, it represents former Illinoisans from all parts of the state, including Chicago.
We and hundreds of historians, District of Columbia officials and local residents honor Lincoln at an annual birthday celebration at the Lincoln Memorial — the most popular of all of the monuments here in the nation’s capital.
We are proud to represent a state where every license plate bears the imprimatur “Land of Lincoln,” and we understand Chicago has felt that same pride. Chicago honored the 16th president of the United States by naming its largest park, at 1,200 acres, as a fitting tribute to this son of Illinois. Lincoln Avenue, one of the longest streets in Chicago, was renamed in his memory after his assassination. Part of Lincoln’s rise to the presidency began in Chicago when his fellow Republicans nominated him at the Wigwam, not far from the site of today’s Navy Pier.
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Our organization was shocked when the Chicago Monuments Project Advisory Committee, which the mayor appointed, named five Lincoln statues as subject to its review. These five statues, in fact, resoundingly affirm the statement the mayor made last summer that the city’s statues should “memorialize our shared values, history and heritage as Chicagoans…” Surely, President Lincoln, who led a successful effort to obliterate the inhumane institution of slavery through the force of arms, shared our values. Surely, President Lincoln was at the focus point of this nation’s history by placing human dignity ahead of political expediency. And surely, President Lincoln was part of Chicago’s heritage. He came to Chicago 25 times as a young lawyer and his family, including his two sons, settled in Chicago following his death.
We urge Mayor Lori Lightfoot to immediately direct the advisory committee to drop the Lincoln statues from its review. They do not meet her well thought-out criteria. Removal of these statues should be an affront to every Chicagoan regardless of race. It would tarnish Chicago’s reputation as the “City of Big Shoulders.”
Howard S. Marks
The Illinois State Society of Washington, DC
Don’t remove historic markers
We have so few historical markers in the city of Chicago. Much of the city’s architecture predating the Chicago Fire of 1871 was destroyed, leaving streets such as Prairie Avenue — once home to Marshall Fields, Phillip Armour and other industrialists — empty. We have few historical monuments in high-traffic, touristy areas. Their purpose is to educate, to tell us about our history. To get us to ask questions.
Instead of removing historic monuments, such as statues of Christopher Columbus, we should add explanations and perspective. I feel personally vandalized by their removal. Do not remove monuments. Educate, don’t erase.
Patti Perry, Wilmette
No perfect heroes
As Jesus is said to have said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” If the Chicago Monuments Project wants only statues of perfect people, there will be no statues of anybody. Do we really want to emulate the Taliban in blowing up all statues as graven image idols? Should we destroy the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument in Washington? Let most of the statues stay.
Tim Hellmann, Orland Hills
Judge the whole man
There is no doubt that the work of the Chicago Monuments Project is important. There is no wrong time to do the right thing.
We should remove monuments and statues of undeserving historic figures and events. We should add important context to those deemed worthy. And we should open our eyes to the contributions of those historic figures who previously were determined not to be important solely because of their heritage, gender or skin color.
It’s important to weigh the contributions of a person in total. Neither Abraham Lincoln, with his treatment of indigenous people, or Barack Obama, with the civilian deaths caused by the drone strikes on his watch, should be judged by just one criterion. Their accomplishments are significant. The bottom line is that Chicago will be better for all this effort.
Don Anderson, Oak Park
In defense of Southeast Side
I resent — and so does most of the community — the charge that the 10th Ward is a “dump” and “polluted.” Many of the people who make this charge have never been in the ward.
In my past and present work life, I have been in every ward of the city; the 10th Ward is the most beautiful and has the most opportunities for recreation. It has uncrowded access to Lake Michigan as well as some of the best forest preserves in the city. It has the William W. Powers State Recreation Area, on Wolf Lake, where people can fish and hunt.
It is simply false to say that the health of the ward has been affected by air quality issues. Data from the city’s Department of Public Health shows that the Southeast Side has rates of cancer, respiratory illness and neurological disease that are lower than the average in Chicago.
The opponents never mention those facts. They are trying to stir up controversy for the sole purpose of running candidates in the 2023 city elections. Diesel emissions, ozone and particulate matter measurements are also less or equal to those in the rest of the city. Follow the science, not the shouting of a vocal minority.
Matt Nelson, East Side
GOP false equivalencies
On one of the Sunday morning network TV news programs, “This Week”, Sen. Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, made the latest partisan attempt to establish an equivalence between the Black Lives Matter protests of last summer and the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
There is no equivalence. The protests last summer were reactions to the egregious latest example — the George Floyd killing — in a centuries-long history of mistreatment of minorities. The Capitol attack was a reaction to a comprehensively debunked fiction about a “stolen” election that has been promoted by partisans like Scalise.
That a very small portion of last summer’s understandably angry protesters (or, perhaps more accurately, the opportunists who showed up later) committed criminal acts does not make this attempt to claim an equivalency any less absurd.
Curt Fredrikson, Mokena