Do Toppled Confederate Statues Have a Place in Black History Museums?

One Houston Museum hopes their newest piece will "spark dialogue" among visitors

Houston Museum of African American Culture
The Houston Museum of African American Culture.

This year has been a year marked by, among other things, the toppling or removal of statues of controversial or outright racist historical figures. Once this has taken place, a question looms over the proceedings: what does one do with such a statue? Banksy came up with one solution; there’s also the museum in Germany that offers a historical context for removed statues, using them as a way to teach about the past without endorsing the sentiments contained within them.

A new article at Hyperallergic shows another way that a contemporary institution is using an offensive statue in an unexpected way. The article, by Valentina Di Liscia, explores the recent work of the Houston Museum of African American Culture. In June, a statue titled “Spirit of the Confederacy” was removed from Sam Houston Park for reasons you can probably figure out based on its title. It’s now on display in the museum’s courtyard, where the institution’s CEO, John Guess, hopes that it will spark dialogue.

“As an educational space, we wanted people to think about it and engage with it,” Guess told Hyperallergic. The statue was first placed in the park in 1908, at a time when segregation in the city was increasing. Guess had discussed the possibility of the museum taking a removed statue in 2017 in a conversation with the city’s mayor, Sylvester Turner.

According to the article, Guess had one condition: that the statue be a symbolic one rather than one of a historical figure. Guess felt that Turner’s position is why such a unique event took place. “I think that factors in to why we are the only African American museum to have this opportunity to unpack a symbol of white supremacy,” Guess told Hyperallergic. And it’s fascinating to think of where this experience might go next.

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