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Guest Host: Sasha-Ann Simons
In Richmond and Annapolis, statues and portraits commemorating people of color are becoming more common. Just this year, Maryland added a portrait of Verda Freeman Welcome — the first black woman in the country elected to a state senate — to the statehouse. Earlier this month, bronze statues of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass were unveiled in the Old House Chamber, the same room where Maryland abolished slavery more than 150 years ago.
Meanwhile, in Virginia, artist Kehinde Wiley’s “Rumors of War” made waves when it was unveiled in Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy. (The 30-foot-tall bronze statue of a young black man riding a horse was Wiley’s response to the massive Confederate statues lining Monument Avenue).
We explore how Maryland and Virginia are working to make amends for a history of violence and racism, what’s driving the progress and what it means to see yourself reflected in a monument.
Produced by Julie Depenbrock
- Greg Carr Chair, Dept. of Afro-American Studies, Howard University; @AfricanaCarr
- Ida Jones Archivist, Morgan State University
- Valerie Cassel Oliver Sydney and Francis Lewis Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
SASHA-ANN SIMONSWelcome back. I'm Sasha-Ann Simons, in for Kojo Nnamdi. In Richmond and Annapolis, it's becoming more common to see statues and portraits commemorating people of color. Just this year, the Maryland State House added a portrait of Verda Welcome, the first black woman in the country elected to State Senate. A few weeks back, life-size statues of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass were unveiled in the Old House Chamber. And in Richmond, artist Kehinde Wiley's 30-foot statue of a young black man riding a horse now resides at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
SASHA-ANN SIMONSSo, how are Maryland and Virginia working to make amends for a history of violence and racism, and what's driving the shift? Joining us to discuss this is Greg Carr. He's the chair of the Department of Afro-American Studies at Howard University. Welcome back, Greg.
GREG CARRThank you. Good to be here.
SIMONSIda Jones is the archivist at Morgan State University. Welcome, Ida.
IDA JONESGood afternoon, and thank you.
SIMONSValerie Cassel Oliver is the Sydney and Francis Lewis Family curator of modern and contemporary art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Hi, Valerie.
VALERIE CASSEL OLIVERHi.
SIMONSGreg, I'll start with you.
SIMONSIn an effort to undo the whitewashing of history, statues and portraits of black figures are finally appearing in the Maryland and Virginia capitals. What do you think is actually driving this change?
CARRWell, I think, you know, all history is about the future, in many ways. And I think this is -- it reflects a demographic shift. You know, countries are imagined things, and rituals and statues and these kinds of things really create common identity and public identity. And as the demographic changes, certainly how we think about the past will change. Now, I'm from Nashville, Tennessee, so, you know, I grew up in the land of the lost cause, with the statues and the rebel flags. And some of them are on private land, as in Nathanial Bedford Forrest's monument. It's still right off I-65, in my hometown.
CARRBut when you see, for me, a Roger Taney, for example, on the State House grounds in Annapolis and you see a Thurgood Marshall there, for me, there's almost something important to perhaps leave a few of those things around. Because it's one thing to get rid of everything and not have the memory, it's quite another to perhaps tell a story about a complex nation by leaving enough of a balance so people can remember, so that they don't repeat it.
SIMONSAbsolutely. Ida Jones and Valerie Cassel Oliver, similar question: what do you believe is propelling the shift? I'll start with you, Ida.
JONESWell, I definitely think -- it's actually 30 years since Verda Welcome passed away in 1990, so that's part of it. But also the arise of African-American women in electoral politics is also kind of unmistakably clear in this age that we're in right now. So, she becomes symbol and sign for African-American women in the sense of diversity, in terms of the legislation she passed. And also the sense of stalwartness she had at the state level, fighting for interracial marriages and fighting for equal rights in the 1960s, surviving an assassination attempt, also. So, she really becomes quite symbolic, or a paradigm through which we can see refracted the lights of the equality of the suffrages.
SIMONSYour thoughts, Valerie. How did we get here?
OLIVERWell, I think this nation, in the midst of all the chaos, is really looking for new narratives. And they're looking to see things that validate their points of view, their lifestyles, their way of living. I think, certainly, for Richmond, the center, the capital of the Confederacy, new narratives are definitely what people are seeking. And to have something like Kehinde Wiley really does provide that seismic shift and really captures, I think, the ethos of the city at this moment.
SIMONSNow, Ida, you started to unpack this for us, already. Verda Welcome is the first black person to have her portrait on display in the Maryland Senate Chamber. Tell us more about who she was, and also, you know, she became the first black woman to be elected to the State Senate, as well. Tell us what that means to have her portrait now displayed in the State House.
JONESIt's very interesting, being in partnership with my colleague in Richmond, that Richmond and Annapolis, both Virginia and Maryland, share a very similar history. Although I think Virginia's probably more obvious of its red stateness. Maryland denies the level of red stateness. So, there is a red stateness, there, but a blue-mindedness that really is in conflict.
JONESSo, for 100-plus-five years, this is the first African-American person to be hung in the State House in Annapolis, the same ports in which we imported African people as property. So, there's a lot in terms of the kind of cause and existential nature of that space. Verda Welcome herself was a transplant to Baltimore as a young child. She was born in North Carolina. She attends Coppin Normal School and gets certification as a teacher. She then migrates to Morgan College and gets a Bachelor's Degree in education.
JONESSo, education was where she started to have her deepest roots. And you find -- for African-American women, in particular -- education is the platform through which we see all of the injustices refracted on the lives of children. So, her thing was, view the symptoms, what are the causes of these issues? So, inequality in pay, inequality of neighborhoods, city services? So, that really impelled her to say, we have to solve these problems, not the symptoms. We can acknowledge the symptom. Let's treat the root.
JONESSo, she really started her neighborhood watch, neighborhood activism. Then she went to the state level. So, she was very gradually sinking into a deeper climb or deeper swim with injustice and how children, in particular, are sponges absorbing all this without any advocacy. So, she sought to be an advocate.
SIMONSNow, speaking of those statues, Ida, bronze statues of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman were unveiled earlier this year. Tell us the significance of that moment. Huge, right?
JONESIn the sense, because they are not on pedestals.
JONESYeah, understatement, yes, because they're actually on flat foot. So, they're actually the statue of the living individuals. So, when you approach the statue, you're engaging the person. So, Harriet Tubman was a very petite woman, very small, Frederick Douglass much more stately, at six-feet-such. But I have not physically had a chance to see them, because they're quite a rush to get there to see them. But for people who have seen them and engage with them, it's like you're actually meeting the person. You're actually able to engage that person.
JONESSo, seeing those two formerly self-emancipated enslaved persons now sitting in the seat of government in the very place that called them property and non-persons and being feted by the entire state and having descendents there, who still live in that state, to be there to kind of welcome them home as citizens and humans, it's huge for the 21st century, because that was the 19th. So, we're really going into another century of what America is and needs to be.
SIMONSDo you think that there's a coincidence that these statues were revealed during Black History Month?
JONESOh, no. You in media know fully well that we're trying to get as much of a spin (laugh) as we can on the cusp of Women's History Month.
SIMONS(laugh) Really? I had no idea. (laugh) The timing is perfect.
JONESExactly. Then Adrienne Jones being the head of the State Senate, as well, a black woman first, African-American first woman. Once again, that nexus, huge.
SIMONSWe're talking with Greg Carr, who is the chair of the Department of Afro-American Studies at Howard University, Ida Jones, who is an archivist at Morgan State University, and Valerie Cassel Oliver, who is the Sydney and Francis Lewis Family curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
SIMONSThis question's for all of you. There are some -- speaking of Black History Month, there are some who view Black History Month and, like, Women's History Month, etcetera, with a bit of skepticism, right. Perhaps wondering, why can't we just celebrate and elevate black history and women's history all year? Why do we have to sort of target February and March? What are your thoughts? Greg, you want to start?
CARRWell, I mean, when Carter Woodson starts what he called Negro History Week like the 26th, he says, this isn't about negro history. It's about the negro in history. And he said it's a brief period of time when we celebrate what we should've been doing the other 51 weeks. If he thought -- and, in fact, one of the last things he wrote before he passed away in 1950, he published an editorial in his Negro History Bulletin that said, no study and, consequently, no celebration.
CARRAnd he said, “it's evident for the call for orators during Negro History Week who seem to know nothing except the race problem that, basically, you've gotten this completely backward.” (laugh) In other words, ultimately -- but here's the challenge. How do you narrate the history of the state with so many different people? There is no one narrative, as Ida said, this history's going to be rewritten every generation.
CARRA hundred years from now, if there's still a United States -- and I think there's a very open proposition as whether there will be one or not. But if there is a United States, I doubt very seriously that many of the things that we pass by and think about in terms of statues and -- you know, many of those things won't be there. They just simply won't be there. What happened in Virginia -- and I hope we'll talk something about that a little bit, Valerie. I mean, you know, Richmond is, like, we want to be able to take some of these statues down. And the demographic shift, you elect some people, and next thing you know, they say, okay, you know what? (word?) control. I don't know what Richmond's going to look like in 50 years, when it comes to monuments.
SIMONSWhat do you think, Valerie?
OLIVERWell, I think, A., to answer the first question, we really do need to have a repository. We need to know our histories. So, if it begins with a month in which we are highlighting people throughout history, we can celebrate them, of course, throughout the year. Now, as it pertains to Richmond, I agree with you, your earlier assessment, Greg, in the sense that we do need to have that landscape of history.
OLIVERYou know, Kehinde Wiley is -- the muse for that is a Confederate monument. And it's a direct call and response to that. It is 100 years, hence. 1907 was when the J.E.B. Stuart monument was erected. And to have the “Rumors of War” speak eloquently, respond eloquently to that, you need that history. You need that as part of the sentiment that we understand as the landscape. Every new era is built upon another, and we need that strata to understand, so that we really do know that we don't repeat these moments, and we have something to pull from when we're discussing things of import. We have that history to look.
SIMONSAnd it helps that we have 29 days this year, right? (laugh) A little extra time.
OLIVERIt's a leap year.
SIMONSIt's a leap year. Ida, what do you think?
JONESWell, to echo the sentiment, I think we have to look at the effect of inequality. And since we have a narrative in the Western mind, there's a winner and there's losers. So, as a result, there's never been equity in the nature of the game. So, therefore, we have to extract ourselves as individuals, to basically celebrate the individual in concert with the larger community.
JONESSo, therefore, those months or days will never go away, Pacific Island Asian Month, I mean, Latin-American Month, because as a result of the Western mindset. There's never been equity at the top. So, it's been very patriarchical, very Eurocentric, and so even white women have not been included. So, as a result, people who are not the narrative, male, white, Eurocentric, and, in particular, British. So, even there's a strata there.
JONESSo, as a result, we have to, as individuals, want to see ourselves reflected. Just recently, in a J.C. Penney's ad or something, the child was in a wheelchair. And he saw another child in the advertisement in a wheelchair. His mother was transfixed, it was on Twitter, it went viral. So, even people who are otherly labeled, not seeing themselves reflected.
JONESExactly. So, until we can actually have the sense of intersectionality be totally imploded, then we need to simply say, I wave my flag here. And those who look like me and who I speak for wave theirs. And we celebrate, collectively, not to a better, (sounds like) but to celebrate in concert.
SIMONSIda, I'm sticking with you. Delegate Adrienne Jones is the first African-American and the first woman to serve as Maryland House Speaker. Ida, does it feel like progress is being made? I know you talked earlier about Verda, but how does this feel?
JONESThere is, because currently, representing Morgan State, as well as the other three HBCUs in the state of Maryland, the lawsuit that they won. So, now the discussion is, what do we do to broker that? Well, if money was taken, then money should be restored. So, there was kind of an offer folded and slid across the table to the various leadership to say, take this. Well, Speaker Jones said, well no, that needs to be added another zero. So, the 50 needs to be 500 million, in terms of the robbery that had gone on.
JONESSo, her position, her longevity and her integrity really does force the conversation of those individuals who she represents by sign and symbol, and possibly ideologically, as well. So, equity is definitely going to be coming from the top down, as well as the bottom up from our students going to Annapolis and protest. So, it's beyond remarkable that she is there, at this time, in light of the lawsuit and in light of the 21st century that we're in.
SIMONSI'm glad you mentioned the students. What do you think it means to the children who are touring these State Houses to see so few monuments that are women or people of color?
JONESIt's huge because, once again, you don't notice you're absence. You see that you're not there. And I think smaller minds, let's say elementary school students, don't even notice they're not there until they say, wow, that's different than the others I've seen. You know, this is different than I've seen, so, oh, I do fit into this narrative somewhere. It's not just mom and dad or community or in church. It's other places in which I can inhabit spaces and been seen as equal and, well, important.
SIMONSYou're listening to The Kojo Nnamdi Show. I'm WAMU reporter Sasha-Ann Simons, sitting in for Kojo. We'll continue our conversation about black history statues and portraits in Virginia and Maryland State Houses in a moment. Stay with us.
SIMONSI'm Sasha-Ann Simons, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. I'm talking with Greg Carr, Ida Jones and Valerie Cassel Oliver about black statues in our region's State Houses. Valerie, tell us about “Rumors of War.”
OLIVER“Rumors of War.” Well, it is, unlike Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, and actually is sitting on a plinth. And it is 27 feet high, it's made of bronze, and 16 feet wide, and has equal depth. It is a one-to-one ratio of the James Yule Brown Stuart monument. He was a Confederate commander in the cavalry. And Kehinde Wiley used that as a muse. So, in that respect, it is a one-to-one ratio of that monument.
SIMONSNow, Valerie, Kehinde Wiley said in a statement before the unveiling of the statue, he said: “in these toxic times, art can help us transform and give us a sense of purpose. This story begins with my seeing the Confederate monuments. What does it feel like if you are black and walking beneath this? We come from a beautiful, fractured situation. Let's take these fractured pieces and put them back together.” Is that what Kehinde's doing here, Valerie? Is he putting the pieces back together?
OLIVERI think he is completing the narrative. As Ida said so beautifully, when one doesn't see themselves reflected, one doesn't know. But I would almost say that people do instinctively know that they are not reflected. And to see...
SIMONS(overlapping) Well, you see that something's missing, right?
OLIVERWell, you know that you're missing.
OLIVERYou can't walk down Monument Avenue, looking at those monuments...
SIMONSWhen nothing looks like you.
OLIVER...and understanding in the time and the era that they were created, they were created as a new world order. They were created to signal, you know, the dominant narrative, and who would be, in fact, directing and implementing laws and policies that, basically, they were erected to signal white supremacy. And that even though the cause was lost, that, in the South, the cause of very much intact.
SIMONSArtist Kehinde Wiley is also famous for his portrait of Barack Obama. What can you tell us about his work?
OLIVERWell, his work quite beautifully looks at classical forms, classical portraiture and affixes brown and black bodies within that context. So, for him to create that monument was very much in line with his own practice. He simply scaled up and went three dimensional. But he really does look toward the amazing portraiture in 1700, 1600, 1800 English, Dutch and French portraiture and affixes black bodies there to show that they can be seen, understood, respected and elevated in that fashion.
SIMONSAbsolutely. And he said that “Rumors of War” was his monumental response to history. Can you unpack that, what he meant, exactly? And I think you might have touched on it before.
OLIVERWell, monuments deserve a monumental response. And to, again, a call-and-response in such a way that is undeniable. It is affixed in the same manner, and it says we are edifying, we're celebrating, we're memorializing someone who looks like me, in the case of Kehinde Wiley as being black and male.
SIMONSWhy is it significant that the statue will call the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts home, thinking of Richmond as the backdrop, right, in the larger picture here?
OLIVERWell, I think we touched upon it earlier. I mean, Richmond is -- or was the capital of the Confederacy. And there are monuments that line Monument Avenue, and it has been the symbol and it has been the dominant narrative of that city for over 100 years. And this is a clarion call of change, and it's a new narrative for the city.
SIMONSI want to bring Diane into the conversation. Hi, Diane. You're on The Kojo Nnamdi Show.
DIANEHi. You're talking about statues here, and you mentioned the Frederick Douglass statue that’s on the University of Maryland campus in College Park. I have seen that, and I must say, from an artistic perspective and representation of him and his wonderful life that he led in advocacy, it's the most beautiful representation I have ever seen, because it's literally life-like, and it's a wind-blown statue. The wind is blowing.
DIANEAnd the first thing that comes to my mind when I saw that was a force to be reckoned with. It's just numerous, numerous things that come to mind. Just, you know, blowing the future forward, as it should go. Just numerous things come to my mind, but I've never seen anything like that before in any artistic representation of a statue of a famous person.
SIMONSThanks for sharing your thoughts, Diane. I just want to clarify, today, we're talking about the statue of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman that's in the Maryland State House.
JONESAlso the first statue of Frederick Douglass was on the campus of Morgan State University, arranged by James E. Lewis. And it has the same figure of the billowing coat and his forward movement. And he's facing east, actually. So, I hope we can get -- it's Cold Spring Way , 1700 East Cold Spring Way in Baltimore, Maryland, in front of the Holmes Hall. And see the original of the first statue in the state of Maryland on any university campus to commemorate the life of Frederick Douglass, native son of Maryland. Thank you.
SIMONSAnother caller suggested that Confederate monuments be moved from inappropriate places to a Civil War battlefield. Thoughts?
CARRYou know, it's interesting, Tuskegee, Alabama Town Square, a number of town squares in the South are considered -- some of these areas are considered private property and you can't disturb the statues. So, it's very fascinating and the battle over memory that's, you know -- I mean, people say move them to the graveyard. And when you go to Arlington National Cemetery, there's a whole section for the Confederate war dead, which is problematic, as far as I'm concerned. But, I mean, I'm not alone in that.
CARRBut when you think about the fact that history is always being contested, as you say, what does it mean to disturb a narrative? Because there is no American narrative? There's a constant battle. So, you know, I think about, for example, look at Kehinde Wiley, for example. The whole notion of monumental sculpture, you know, the guy's sitting on a horse. Maybe there's another approach. I mean, every generation sculpts, paints to reflect where it is in time and space.
CARRIf you got to South Carolina State House in Columbia, you'll see, for example, Ed Dwight's magnificent statue monument to black people in South Carolina. And then Strom Thurman is up there and all this other -- these things, I don't think they should be displaced, necessarily. You got to put them in conversation with each other. And another thing I was saying, Richmond, for example, all those men on horses on Monument Row and then Arthur Ashe from the torso up, with his hands in the air, reminds me of Martin Luther King in the capitol rotunda, cut off from the belly up.
CARRYou know, if you're going to respond to these things, maybe we can respond differently by creating something out of our imagination that doesn't use those statues as a prompt. And then you've got a different kind of conversation.
SIMONSAnd I was going to ask you about, you know, how, until recently, these monuments have just almost exclusively paid homage to the white man.
CARRRight. But, I mean, to me, you know, even if it's black, is it paying homage to this year or century value system, if all you've done is replace? You know, I'm thinking about, for example, Chicago-based artist Kerry James Marshall. I would've liked Obama, perhaps -- Barack Obama maybe to pick somebody like a Kerry James Marshall who has mastered the Western traditions, but has also said, I'm going to put myself in this conversation.
CARRBut I realize we're in a moment now, Margot Natalie Crawford talks about post-black blackness. There's no political center out of which this conversation is being had. So, if you go back to the '70s or '80s, when you see some of this statuary or some of these paintings, there's a very clear, deliberate decision to move away from the white aesthetic. Now, even replacing folks in a white aesthetic, does that reify -- I mean, you know, like the musical “Hamilton.” It's black-faced minstrelsy, in my mind. I mean, like, you didn't replace the narrative. You just made it black.
JONESWell, we could look right here in D.C. at the Mary McLeod Bethune statue in the park at Lincoln Memorial Park. So, we have this sculpture of Mary McLeod Bethune done. And then they actually positioned Lincoln and turned his back to her. So, we have a situation in which they weren't mimicking that, but they were simply acknowledging the fact of her being in this park, the first statue in the nation's capital to an African-American woman. So, we have that kind of juxtaposition of the politics of art.
OLIVERAnd quite honestly, artists tend to gravitate and celebrate art of all narratives. So, you know, there is no one narrative of art. I think for Kehinde, Kerry James also is a student and someone who celebrates classical European art. And he creates new narratives that are from the black experience. So, I personally don't see anything wrong with that. I think we're all creating our narratives. And to subscribe something to say it's only European or it's only white, I think it's -- I don't agree with it.
CARRWell, that's good. That's post-black blackness.
JONESThere's no such thing as post-black, but anyway. (laugh)
SIMONSOn that note, Valerie, I wanted to read you a Tweet from Vickie. Vickie tweeted to us, she says: on Saturday I visited the Virginia Museum and toured the Great Determent exhibit in the Fine Arts Museum and saw the awesome “Rumors of War.” Love the juxtaposition to the other one down the street, and felt reflected and honored. How has the public response been to “Rumors of War”? Similar to this?
OLIVEROh, I think the public has been overwhelmingly receptive to the work. And even when it was unveiled, we anticipated there would be a crowd, but we had close to 4,000 people there to witness the unveiling. And it was for not only European-Americans, African-Americans. You could run the gamut of any cultural and ethnic background. It was embraced, and has been embraced by all.
SIMONSAnd, Valerie, how do you curate art in the museum so that it grabs young people's attention? So, take us through that mind frame when you're...
OLIVERWell, quite honestly, I think “Rumors of War,” which is situated at the entrance of the museum, really signals what is happening within the walls of the museum. There has been a seismic shift. There's been an alignment between the governance, the administration and the artistic body, if you will, of the museum to be more reflective of the city of Richmond.
OLIVERSo, there are more images of people of color, period, on the walls, whether it's in my particular division of modern and contemporary, or American or European. We're really looking and reaching all the way through this encyclopedic museum to bring forth those narratives and those stories.
SIMONSGreg, there have been parallel movements here to remove statues of Confederate soldiers and slave owners. What do you think should become of such monuments?
CARRWell, it's interesting. I was in New Orleans the weekend they took P.G.T. Beauregard out from in front of the city hall there, Mitch Landrieu.
CARRAnd the New Orleans Police had to surround many of those statues because, you know, as we say sometimes in the song “Dixie,” old times there are not forgotten.
SIMONSWhat was the scene like?
CARRWell, you know -- well, of course, there was...
SIMONSWere there a lot of people watching?
CARRWell, actually, there was jubilance, of course, and they were -- I mean, but at the same time, in the days preceding it, the workers noticed that people would be slowing down, racial epithets being hurled. I mean, people don't want these things to be disturbed. But you see some of these statues are actually being sold off, a million dollars, a million-and-a-half. Oh, yeah, people are buying these statues and saying, I'll take it and put it in my yard. And, as I said, even in Nashville, there are Confederate flags surrounding the base of a Nathaniel Bedford Forrest statue. He was the founder of the Ku Klux Klan. And it's on private property.
CARRSo, what people are doing sometimes -- what should be done with these statues? Well, should we say you can buy the statue, if you want? And then if you put the statue on your private property and put it by the highway, you're making a symbol. Because, again, the past is a living thing, and it's always contested. There's no one narrative.
SIMONSWhat do you think should become of those monuments, Ida?
JONESWell, as an educator, I have a problem with taking them down. People only ask questions when they see things. So, to me, they need to stay in the public space...
JONES...and to be able to have conversation about this. Because I think when we have this kind of paradigm -- which is very Western, good, bad, this, that -- then we're limiting our conversation, and then, therefore, we are leaning towards extremism. So, I think when you have this the this-and. So, when you have, let's say -- and I know the Confederacy is the heritage for some people, and they're very proud of their heritage, even though it basically destroyed another people. And that has never really been reconciled in terms of that.
JONESThe UDC wanted to put up a statue to Mamie. They wanted a monument to Mamie. Now, when we think of Mamie, we think of certain kinds of images of womanhood, but oftentimes, it was a younger woman who was 12 or 13 years old who was a caretaker for a younger child who's seven or 10.
SIMONSRight. We never realize how young they were back then.
JONESYeah, so, this whole discussion needs to really be unpacked in terms of what we remember and how we remember it. So, my thing is that all of them should not go. They should remain somewhere public and somewhere to have a conversation in the age of intelligence, the information age we're in, the post-post-modern age we're in. Because we have other persons coming, Latinos and Asians and indigenous people who don't understand the juxtaposition.
JONESJust recently, at FIT, there was someone who wanted to model to wear monkey ears and monkey lips, and asked the black model to wear this on a runway. And she was so offended. He's like, I'm from China. I didn't know this. How could that happen in the information age? I don't understand. But, nevertheless, these are the kinds of conversations we need to have. So, the monuments need to remain, the conversation needs to remain, as heated as they are. Because as we get further away, it gets cooler and cooler and cooler, and then it resurges itself. It resurges, and no one knows where it came from. It wasn't spontaneous. It's been under the ground.
SIMONSI want to quickly bring Robert from Arlington into the conversation. Hi, Robert. You're on the line.
ROBERTHi, how are you?
SIMONSI'm doing well.
ROBERTI just want to make the observation, I'm Asian-American, actually, but it's important, I think, for our kids to understand the entire history of the U.S. So, we took our kids to Richmond. They're teenagers, and they saw the “Rumors of War” statue. And a couple observations they made was how joyous the statue was, depicting a confident, joyous young man riding on a horse. But they also observed that if you look closely, they're wearing -- the rider's wearing high-top Nike sneakers and a hoodie.
ROBERTWell, that made an immediate connection to them and just made the art piece more relevant. And they're able to see it in light of the other statues along Monument Row, and we were able to have a really good discussion about what all this means and what the artwork means in the current context, to really appreciate the artwork that Kehinde Wiley put together with the “Rumors of War.” It really sparked a good conversation within our family and hopefully, you know, throughout our community, as well.
SIMONSThank you, Robert, Appreciate your call. Does that sound like what you...
OLIVERAbsolutely. And I didn't describe it...
SIMONS(overlapping) I love the high-top sneakers.
OLIVER…exactly, the Kyries and the hoodie and the ripped jeans and the dreadlocks.
SIMONSWell, you got to meet them where they are, right?
OLIVERWell, exactly. It symbols a new generation, and it's edifying, celebrating and even commemorating those youth.
SIMONSI want to quickly touch on, Ida, you talked about, you know, who gets remembered in history. Thinking on the national level, real quick, you know, the question is: who gets elected and who gets denied? Tell us, what are you thinking about this presidential race?
JONESIt's a very contested election. I don't really foresee, in the immediate sense, any kind of real fight, or let's say, conversation, politically. And, once again, the morass we're in right now comes because of a lack of historical understanding. So, once again, we're looking at people who are responding to tweets and other kind of small soundbites, with no context. So, we have lots of breath, and no depth. And that's frightening, because younger people really do want to know, here in Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C., the students said, we don't know about black history. We want to know about black history.
JONESSo, they have opened the Carter G. Woodson Institute, so they can actually now self-learn and have teachers helping them understand who they are -- not in opposition to anybody, but in concert with everybody else. Because I can't be my best self and understand you if I don't know who I am. Why am I learning you? So, I think the idea, in the national elections we're talking about, we really need black girls who vote. They're saying, let's look at the records of these people. You know, there's one who was running who was a state prosecutor. There was one who was running who was a state prosecutor who is no longer in the race. Let's look at the records of those people, and not vote the image. Let's look at the substance.
SIMONSVery quickly, Greg, before we run out of time, you led a team of academics in the design of Philadelphia's African American Studies curriculum.
SIMONSCould you tell us what that would mean to black students in Washington? Like, could you implement something like that here, at Howard?
CARRWell, our friend and brother Kenyan McDuffie, Councilman McDuffie, has introduced legislation to make African American studies a mandatory course in high schools here. In fact, we were at Paul Dunbar last week with the students from the Woodson Academy. We met over there, talking to them. Our goal in Philadelphia -- and what I think the goal should be here, in any school district, for that matter -- is to have students and teachers ask better questions.
CARRCan we ask better questions? The answers, we may not all agree on the final answers, but we can ask different kinds of questions. That's what we built our curriculum around, and that's what they're doing at the Woodson Academy, as you say. Nubia Garima is leading that, a young teacher there with a whole bunch of really energetic young teachers, changing the questions, will engage the students, and then they will engage and, as you say, self-learn. And that's the important thing.
SIMONSAnd push this movement even more forward.
SIMONSGreg Carr is the chair of the Department of Afro-American Studies at Howard University. Ida Jones is the archivist at Morgan State University, and Valerie Cassel Oliver is the Sydney and Francis Lewis Family curator of modern and contemporary art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Such a pleasure, meeting you today.
CARRThank you, Sasha.
SIMONSThis segment about monuments and state houses was produced by Julie Depenbrock. And our conversion about Virginia's Democratic primary was produced by Cydney Grannan. Tonight is the next Kojo in Your Community. It's about changing immigration policies and their impact on local students and families. There are still some tickets left. Join Kojo at the Columbia Heights Educational Campus and learn how to get tickets and more at kojoshow.org.
SIMONSComing up on tomorrow's Kojo Nnamdi Show, home prices and rents in the D.C. region are among the highest in the nation. We'll look at proposals to tackle the problem. Plus, what's the best way to conduct an active shooter drill? Some educators worry that they're scaring students, and it won't help during an actual emergency. That all starts tomorrow, at noon. Thank you so much for listening. I'm Sasha-Ann Simons.
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