Three Chicago leg­is­la­tors ask gov to tear down statue of ‘racist and sex­ist’ from S. Side tomb

Chicago Sun-Times - - NEWS - BY NEAL EAR­LEY,

SPRING­FIELD — The “Lit­tle Gi­ant” has tow­ered over the Bronzevill­e neigh­bor­hood for well over a cen­tury — and three Chicago Democrats say that’s far too long.

State Reps. Kam Buck­ner, Curtis J. Tarver II and Lamont J. Robin­son Jr. wrote a let­ter to Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tues­day call­ing for the gov­er­nor to re­move a 9-foot­tall bronze statue of Stephen Dou­glas from atop his tomb on Chicago’s South Side.

“There is an ed­i­fice ded­i­cated to al­low­ing a bigot even in his grave to look down upon the Black com­mu­nity,” the three South Side law­mak­ers wrote. “This is in­de­fen­si­ble.”

The three mem­bers of the Illi­nois Leg­isla­tive Black Cau­cus made it clear they are not call­ing for Dou­glas’ body to be ex­humed from the tomb, just re­moval of the statue, dub­bing it “a trib­ute to a widely known racist and sex­ist who even staked his pres­i­den­tial plat­form on the sub­ju­ga­tion of any non­white male in Amer­ica.”

Buck­ner, Tarver and Robin­son also called on Pritzker and Mayor Lori Light­foot to stop pro­mot­ing Dou­glas’ tomb near 35th and Cot­tage Grove as a tourist site.

“Stephen Dou­glas was a dis­tin­guished states­man in Illi­nois,” they wrote. “There is no doubt about that. He was equally a per­son who per­son­ally ben­e­fited from the slav­ery of Black peo­ple in Amer­ica.”

Known as the “Lit­tle Gi­ant” for his 5-foot4-inch frame and large po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence, Dou­glas played a ma­jor role in the lead-up to the Civil War. His­to­rian Gra­ham Peck told the Sun-Times last week Dou­glas was “prob­a­bly the most im­por­tant sen­a­tor in the his­tory of the coun­try” but also “a lead­ing race-baiter in Amer­i­can his­tory.”

Buck­ner, whose dis­trict in­cludes the statue, called it an “eye­sore” for many Black peo­ple who live in his dis­trict and are of­fended by Dou­glas’ po­si­tion on slav­ery and race.

“This is about not rever­ing some­one who was an­ti­thet­i­cal to the neigh­bor­hood in which this statue now stands,” Buck­ner told the Sun-Times. “So, folks who would like to have the statue re­main, folks who think that, you know, this is an af­front to his­tory, I wel­come them to take it and put it in their neigh­bor­hood.”

The statue sits atop a 96-foot-tall gran­ite struc­ture com­pleted in 1881, which in­cludes a large obelisk and a mau­soleum at the base where Dou­glas’ body is en­tombed. The land was orig­i­nally owned by Dou­glas’ es­tate but was sold to the state of Illi­nois, when it be­came known as “Camp Dou­glas” serv­ing first as train­ing grounds for Union sol­diers dur­ing the Civil War, then as a pris­oner of war camp.

Pritzker and Light­foot did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

For Dou­glas’ de­fend­ers, re­mov­ing the statue goes too far.

Ge­orge Buss, who is pres­i­dent of the Stephen A. Dou­glas As­so­ci­a­tion, said the statue is a part of the grave site and re­mov­ing it would be the same as dis­turb­ing the dead.

“This was put up as his grave site, and I just can’t think that we can re­move part of it and say, OK we haven’t dis­turbed his fi­nal rest­ing place,” Buss said.

Buss is a re­tired teacher from Freeport in north­west­ern Illi­nois who also por­trays Dou­glas’ main po­lit­i­cal foe — Abra­ham Lin­coln. Buss said if it wasn’t for Dou­glas, Lin­coln would have not have gained the fame that pro­pelled him to the pres­i­dency.

Lin­coln and Dou­glas squared off in per­haps the most fa­mous po­lit­i­cal de­bates in U.S. his­tory in 1858. Dou­glas beat Lin­coln in that U.S. Se­nate con­test but lost the pres­i­dency to him two years later.

“So, I think the clar­ion call should be rather than take it down, let us in­ter­pret it richly in the con­text of to­day, so that the fu­ture gen­er­a­tions don’t have a mis­take,” Buss said.

The let­ter from Buck­ner, Tarver and Robin­son comes less than a week af­ter House Speaker Mike Madi­gan called for stat­ues and a por­trait of Dou­glas to be re­moved from the state Capi­tol in Spring­field. Madi­gan said he learned of “Stephen Dou­glas’ dis­turb­ing past” a few months ago while read­ing Sid­ney Blu­men­thal’s book “All the Pow­ers of Earth.”

The push from Madi­gan and oth­ers to re­move me­mo­ri­als to Dou­glas comes in the wake of the death of Ge­orge Floyd, who was killed by a Min­neapo­lis po­lice of­fi­cer. Madi­gan said that prompted him to push to make sure “sym­bols of hate are re­moved from our ev­ery­day lives.”

Dou­glas’ de­fend­ers point to his im­por­tance to the state of Illi­nois and the na­tion, say­ing be­fore he died in 1861, the “Lit­tle Gi­ant” sup­ported his former ri­val Lin­coln, and the Union cause, at the be­gin­ning of the Civil War.

But Buck­ner, Tarver and Robin­son con­tend the jury is in on Dou­glas.

“There is also no doubt how Dou­glas felt about Black in­di­vid­u­als, women and any non-white man in Amer­ica,” they wrote in their let­ter. “The former pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee of the Demo­cratic Party is quoted as say­ing: ‘I hold that a Ne­gro is not and never ought to be a cit­i­zen of the United States. I hold that this gov­ern­ment was made on the white ba­sis, made by the white men, for the ben­e­fit of white men and their pos­ter­ity for­ever and should be ad­min­is­tered by white men and none oth­ers.’ ”

“THERE IS AN ED­I­FICE DED­I­CATED TO AL­LOW­ING A BIGOT EVEN IN HIS GRAVE TO LOOK DOWN UPON THE BLACK COM­MU­NITY. THIS IS IN­DE­FEN­SI­BLE.” STATE REPS. KAM BUCK­NER, CURTIS J. TARVER II AND LAMONT J. ROBIN­SON JR., in a let­ter to Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tues­day call­ing for the re­moval of a statue of Stephen Dou­glas from atop his tomb on Chicago’s South Side (above pho­tos).

Chicagoans re­turn­ing from trips to Iowa, and any Hawk­eye vis­i­tors to the city, will soon have to hun­ker down for two weeks un­der Mayor Lori Light­foot’s quar­an­tine or­der for trav­el­ers from coro­n­avirus hot spots.

Illi­nois’ neigh­bor to the west was added to the city’s travel quar­an­tine list Tues­day, along with Ok­la­homa, as COVID-19 cases spike in those states.

Fif­teen other states with in­fec­tion rates greater than 15 cases per 100,000 res­i­dents re­main on Chicago’s man­dated quar­an­tine list that first went into ef­fect July 6: Alabama, Arkansas, Ari­zona, Cal­i­for­nia, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mis­sis­sippi, North Carolina, Ne­vada, South Carolina, Ten­nessee, Texas and Utah.

The or­der goes into ef­fect Fri­day for trav­el­ers from Ok­la­homa and Iowa, which is the first bor­der state added to Chicago’s list. Wis­con­sin is in the next tier, ac­cord­ing to city fig­ures, with an in­fec­tion rate sit­ting between 10 and 15 cases per 100,000 res­i­dents.

“We’re pay­ing very close at­ten­tion ev­ery­where around us, and par­tic­u­larly states in the Mid­west that bor­der Illi­nois, and Chicago,” Light­foot said at a news con­fer­ence.

Vi­o­la­tors are sub­ject to fines of $100 to $500 per day, up to $7,000. The city hasn’t is­sued any ci­ta­tions in the first week, but Light­foot said she thinks peo­ple are fol­low­ing the or­der.

“It is, I think, an im­por­tant thing to raise the con­scious­ness of peo­ple that are liv­ing in and com­ing from those lo­ca­tions, about what their obli­ga­tions are, if they want to travel,” she said.

The quar­an­tine or­der only ap­plies if a per­son has spent 24 hours or more in one of the flagged states, so con­nect­ing flights and short road trips are not an is­sue.

There are ex­cep­tions for per­sonal travel, in­clud­ing travel for med­i­cal care and shared parental cus­tody. Those who travel for “es­sen­tial” work are ex­empt but urged to “avoid pub­lic spa­ces as much as pos­si­ble.”

Oth­er­wise, even if a trav­eler from a hot spot state tests neg­a­tive, they’re still re­quired to quar­an­tine be­cause “in­di­vid­u­als can de­velop symp­toms and be­come con­ta­gious up to 14 days from their last ex­po­sure,” of­fi­cials said.


In ad­di­tion to the tow­er­ing statue (right), a bust of Stephen Dou­glas adorns his tomb near 35th Street and Cot­tage Grove Av­enue.

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