Remove the Marcus Whitman statue in downtown Walla Walla, Washington

Remove the Marcus Whitman statue in downtown Walla Walla, Washington

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Peter Eberle started this petition to Tom Scribner, Mayor of Walla Walla and

Since 1992, a statue of Marcus Whitman, the missionary and doctor who settled the Walla Walla valley, has stood at the corner of Boyer Avenue and Main Street in Walla Walla. Marcus Whitman’s settlement in the Walla Walla valley with his wife Narcissa in 1836 contributed to a loss of land, sovereignty, and lives for the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla people. The bronze statue glorifies a mythical idea of who he was and what he stood for: a heroic figure embodying Manifest Destiny and Westward expansion. The statue also enforces the idea that history is made by a small handful of “great men,” excluding others whose presence has marked the valley’s history. 

We are in a moment of reckoning with racial injustice in the United States, one in which many cities are contending with monuments that celebrate a history of racialized oppression. A frequent argument against the removal of monuments is that removal constitutes an erasure of history. In response to this argument, the American Historical Association has stated that “history comprises both facts and interpretations of those facts. To remove a monument, or to change the name of a school or street, is not to erase history, but rather to alter or call attention to a previous interpretation of history. A monument is not history itself; a monument commemorates an aspect of history, representing a moment in the past when a public or private decision defined who would be honored in a community’s public spaces. (...) What changes with such removals is what American communities decide is worthy of civic honor.” 

The Marcus Whitman statue is indeed not history itself. Like many other statues honoring historical figures, it was created long after the death of the figure it represents: Whitman died in 1847; the statue by Avard Fairbanks was first cast in 1953 for the Washington State Capitol and National Statuary Hall in the Capitol building in Washington D.C., then recast in 1992 and placed in Walla Walla on the edge of Whitman College’s campus. The statue currently stands alone, with no contextual or analytical information, a figure of heroic White settlement whose monumentality stands in the way of a more nuanced and inclusive historical narrative. Removing the Marcus Whitman statue, possibly to a museum setting such as the Fort Walla Walla Museum, is a necessary step towards altering earlier understandings of the history of this region, and an important response to a shift in what we believe to be worthy of civic honor. 

 

  1.  https://www.historians.org/news-and-advocacy/aha-advocacy/aha-statement-on-confederate-monuments
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