Chicago Sun-Times - - NEWS -

We agree with House Speaker Michael Madi­gan: A por­trait of former Pres­i­dent Barack Obama hang­ing in the Illi­nois House cham­ber in Spring­field makes way more sense than a huge por­trait of the late U.S. Sen. Stephen A. Dou­glas, whose fam­ily owned slaves.

We ap­plaud the speaker for tak­ing the lead in sug­gest­ing Dou­glas be erad­i­cated from the Capi­tol. It shows aware­ness for what’s go­ing on in Amer­ica at this mo­ment, and re­mov­ing the por­trait and two stat­ues of Dou­glas from the seat of Illi­nois gov­ern­ment sets the right tone.

Sim­i­larly, we ap­plaud state rep­re­sen­ta­tives Kam Buck­ner, Curtis Tarver and Lamont Robin­son for call­ing on a 9-foot tall statue of Dou­glas atop a 96-foot mon­u­ment to be re­moved from its perch in Chicago’s Bronzevill­e neigh­bor­hood.

Dou­glas’ tomb sits be­neath the statue near 35th Street and Cot­tage Grove Av­enue. The law­mak­ers have no is­sue with Dou­glas’ grave re­main­ing on the site.

But as they wrote to Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tues­day, the tow­er­ing bronze statue “is an ed­i­fice ded­i­cated to al­low­ing a bigot even in his grave to look down upon the Black com­mu­nity.”

Those are pow­er­ful words.

But we’d also like to see some pow­er­ful ac­tions come along with them.

We imag­ine Pritzker and Mayor Lori Light­foot will heed the re­quests from Madi­gan and his three fel­low Democrats to re­move the trib­utes to Dou­glas. But the ef­fect of tak­ing down a sym­bol is short­lived.

The real chal­lenge is for elected of­fi­cials at ev­ery level of gov­ern­ment — fed­eral, state, county, city, school board and town­ship — to set poli­cies that pro­mote so­cial jus­tice and solve the widen­ing wealth gap in Illi­nois and the rest of the na­tion.

In Illi­nois and Chicago, we know there are pro­grams to en­cour­age racial and gen­der di­ver­sity in hir­ing and con­tract­ing, but they’ve long been watered down by white busi­ness­peo­ple set­ting up mi­nor­ity “fronts” to con­tinue get­ting their share of the tax­payer-funded pie.

It’s also abun­dantly clear that Cook County’s prop­erty tax sys­tem has pro­vided breaks to the rich — who can af­ford to hire prop­erty-tax ap­peal lawyers like Madi­gan to help them win tax re­duc­tions — at the ex­pense of the poor.

Illi­noisans will have a chance in Novem­ber to make a bold state­ment about mak­ing our state more equal when they vote on Pritzker’s plan to re­place Illi­nois’ flat-tax sys­tem with a grad­u­ated in­come tax that will al­low high-in­come Illi­noisans to bear more of the state’s tax bur­den. That’s a good start, but now — more than ever — is the time to see what else might be in our elected of­fi­cials’ eq­uity and in­clu­sion play­books.

The is­sue is sim­i­lar to what we wrote last month as more Amer­i­can com­pa­nies than ever called for racial jus­tice: Ex­pres­sions of so­cial con­cern are ap­pro­pri­ate and signs pro­claim­ing “Black Lives Mat­ter” are wel­come at a time when Amer­ica is hav­ing a his­toric racial reck­on­ing. It’s heart­en­ing to see them in un­ex­pected places, in­clud­ing the Mars Cheese Cas­tle just over the bor­der in Wis­con­sin.

But they mat­ter less than con­crete ac­tions. Just as it is not enough for cor­po­rate Amer­ica to pay lip ser­vice with­out tak­ing ac­tion, the same is true of gov­ern­ment.

It seems nowa­days that you can’t move in Amer­ica with­out bump­ing into a statue that harkens back to in­sti­tu­tional racism. That’s how en­trenched it is.

In Dou­glas’ case, he al­lied him­self with Abra­ham Lin­coln to de­feat the Con­fed­er­acy, but he also in­her­ited through his wife a Mis­sis­sippi plan­ta­tion with en­slaved per­sons, and he drafted the Kansas-Ne­braska Act of 1854, which al­lowed set­tlers to de­cide whether slav­ery would be al­lowed in a new state.

He once said, “I hold that this gov­ern­ment was es­tab­lished on the white ba­sis. It was es­tab­lished by white men for the ben­e­fit of white men and their pos­ter­ity for­ever, and should be ad­min­is­tered by white men, and none oth­ers.”

But whether it’s Stephen Dou­glas, Christo­pher Colum­bus or any num­ber of his­tor­i­cal fig­ures who have been glo­ri­fied with mon­u­ments de­spite clearly of­fen­sive words and be­hav­iors, there isn’t a one-siz­e­fits-all so­lu­tion for how to up­root all these sym­bols.

Get­ting the Dou­glas mon­u­ments out of the Illi­nois Capi­tol and its grounds — and cut­ting his legacy down to size in Bronzevill­e — is a good start to­ward mak­ing amends.

But let’s not for­get about the big­ger pic­ture: A more eco­nom­i­cally fair Illi­nois and na­tion will go a much longer way to­ward end­ing racism.


A por­trait of Stephen Dou­glas over­looks the Illi­nois House.


A statue of Stephen Dou­glas (left) in­side the state Capi­tol in Spring­field and Dou­glas’ tomb (right) in the Bronzevill­e neigh­bor­hood.

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