Peace & Justice Monuments

Since May 2015, every Monday morning I have been posting a little essay about a peace or social justice monument. For more than a decade, ever since the peaceCENTER was contracted by a national peace & human rights group to develop a workshop exploring strategies for creating memorials about acts of violence and injustice that did not glorify the bloodshed, we have pondered the relationship between the landscape and civic memory.

“I would rather take care of the stomachs of the living
than the glory of the departed in the form of monuments.”

Alfred Nobel

As we showcase these monuments we hope you will join us in this exploration. For now, we’re concentrating on publicly accessible outdoor works. Some are grassroots and homespun; others, more complicated in their funding and execution. They all have a story to tell and we can learn from all of them.

Monday’s Monument: Mary Dyer Statue, Boston, Massachusetts

Monday’s Monument: Mary Dyer Statue, Boston, Massachusetts

A Quaker at a time when Quakers were banned from Massachusetts, Dyer was eventually hanged for her insistence on religious liberty in the English colony. The statue by Sylvia Shaw Judson went up in 1959 at a descendant's bequest. It's diagonally across from the Boston...

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Monday’s Monument: The Pit, Minsk, Belarus

Monday’s Monument: The Pit, Minsk, Belarus

The Pit (Belarusian: Яма) is a monument devoted to the victims of the Holocaust. It is on the site where, on March 2, 1942, the Nazi forces shot about 5,000 prisoners of the nearby Minsk Ghetto. The small polished black granite obelisk was created in 1947 and in 2000...

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Monday’s Monument: Bells Monument, Sofia, Bulgaria

Monday’s Monument: Bells Monument, Sofia, Bulgaria

The Bells Monument (or, in Bulgarian, “Камбаните”) is in a park at the base of the Vitosha mountain. An inscription at the monument’s base reads, “Children of the future accept the eternal, fiery call of immortality - Unity, Creativity, Beauty.” When the UN declared...

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Monday’s Monument: Tree of Hope, Marseille, France

Monday’s Monument: Tree of Hope, Marseille, France

L’arbre de l’espérance sculpture stands at the main entrance to the 26th centennial park in Marseille and was unveiled in 2000 as part of the 2,600 anniversary of the foundation of the city. 350,000 people of all faiths and none, native to Marseille or immigrants...

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Shaheed Minar (Language Martyrs Monument), Dhaka, Bangladesh

Shaheed Minar (Language Martyrs Monument), Dhaka, Bangladesh

The Shaheed Minar (Bengali: শহীদ মিনার Shohid Minar lit. "Martyr Monument") commemorates those killed during the Bengali Language Movement demonstrations of 1952 in what was then East Pakistan. On 21 and 22 February 1952, students from Dhaka University, Dhaka Medical...

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Monday’s Monument: Peace Fountain, Rochester, New York

Monday’s Monument: Peace Fountain, Rochester, New York

Located in the middle of the popular Peace Plaza, it stands 12 feet high and is made of a circular tier of 57 life-sized interlocking bronze doves. They symbolize the 50 United States and the 7 major continents of the world. The three doves on top represent past,...

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Monday’s Monument: Holocaust Memorial, Portland, Oregon

Monday’s Monument: Holocaust Memorial, Portland, Oregon

The memorial features a stone bench with wrought iron gating around a cobblestone circle. Scattered bronzes of common objects such as shoes, glasses, a teddy bear and a suitcase represent items left behind by those persecuted during the Holocaust. A cobblestone...

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late 13c., “a sepulchre,” from Old French monument “grave, tomb, monument,” and directly from Latin monumentum “a monument, memorial structure, statue; votive offering; tomb; memorial record,” literally “something that reminds,” from monere “to admonish, warn, advice,” from PIE *moneyo-, suffixed (causative) form of root *men- (1) “to think.” Sense of “structure or edifice to commemorate a notable person, action, or event” first attested c. 1600.

Ten Questions to Ask at a Historic Site

In his book Lies Across America, Professor James Loewen posed these ten questions to ask at a historic site.

1. When did this location become a historic site? (When was the marker or monument put up? Or the house interpreted?) How did that time differ from ours? From the time of the event or person interpreted?

2. Who sponsored it? representing which participant groups’s point of view? What was their position in the social structure when the event occurred? When the site went “up”?

3. What were the sponsor’s motives? What were their ideological needs and social purposes? What were their values?

4. What is the intended audience for the site? What values were they trying to leave for us, today? What does the site ask us to go and do or think about?

5. Did the sponsors have government support? At what level? Who was ruling the government at the time? What ideological arguments were used to get the government acquiescence?

6. Who is left out? What points of view go largely unheard? How would the story differ if a different group told it? Another political party? Race? Sex? Class? Religious group?

7. Are there problematic (insulting, degrading) words or symbols that would not be used today, or by other groups?

8. How is the site used today? Do traditional rituals continue to connect today’s public to it? Or is it ignored? Why?

9. Is the presentation accurate? What actually happened? What historical sources tell of the event, people, or period commemorated at this site?

10. How does the site fit in with others that treat the same era? Or subject? What other people lived ad events happened then but are not commemorated? Why?

Want to learn more about monuments? Check out my bookshelf.

Ready to Kill

by Carl Sandburg (Chicago Poems, 1916)

TEN minutes now I have been looking at this.
I have gone by here before and wondered about it.
This is a bronze memorial of a famous general
Riding horseback with a flag and a sword and a revolver on him.
I want to smash the whole thing into a pile of junk to be hauled away to the scrap yard.
I put it straight to you,
After the farmer, the miner, the shop man, the factory hand, the fireman and the teamster,
Have all been remembered with bronze memorials,
Shaping them on the job of getting all of us
Something to eat and something to wear,
When they stack a few silhouettes
Against the sky
Here in the park,
And show the real huskies that are doing the work of the world, and feeding people instead of butchering them,
Then maybe I will stand here
And look easy at this general of the army holding a flag in the air,
And riding like hell on horseback
Ready to kill anybody that gets in his way,
Ready to run the red blood and slush the bowels of men all over the sweet new grass of the prairie.

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