Houston removes controversial statues from its collections

The fate of monuments celebrating southern memory continues to be debated in the United States. The Houston City Council voted to remove three sculptures from its inventories. These are The Spirit of the Confederacy, an allegorical bronze angel that was on display at the Houston Museum of African American Culture, as well as two sculptures of Christopher Columbus and Richard “Dick” Dowling. All were removed from public space in 2020.

The Charleston massacre in 2015 and then the tragedy of Charlottesville in 2017 had drawn part of American opinion into the fight for the removal of Confederate monuments. These statues enthroned in squares are often the subject of acts of vandalism: damaged, overturned or unbolted. In 2017, a man attempted to blow up the statue of “Dick” Dowling, a former lieutenant in the Confederate army. The statue of Christopher Columbus was painted red twice.

Measures were taken in the context of the Black Lives Matters (BLM) movement caused by the death of George Floyd in 2020, originally from the city. The statue of Richard Dowling was removed from Hermann Park in June 2020, then placed in reserve. Same treatment for Christopher Columbus unbolted from Bell Park in September 2020, to be returned to his author.

The Spirit of the Confederacy, removed in June 2020 from Sam Houston Park, has since been preserved at the Houston Museum of African American Culture. Strongly criticized by anti-racist activists, the director of the museum, John Guess Jr, then defended himself by arguing that history should not be erased but explained to repair the wounds.

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