DC, Trump administration clash over slavery, famous names on city monuments

Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty ImagesBY: STEPHANIE EBBS, ABC NEWS

(WASHINGTON) — In the face of Trump administration backlash, Washington, D.C.’s mayor has blocked a call to add context to the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial to note the nation’s founders were also slaveholders.

An advisory group to the D.C. government had called on Mayor Muriel Bowser to push to have iconic national monuments, including the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial, as well as statues of Andrew Jackson, Christopher Columbus, Francis Scott Key, and Benjamin Franklin removed, relocated, or changed to add historical context about the men’s involvement in slavery, systemic racism, or oppression.

The group also recommended renaming dozens of schools, parks and government buildings in the city to remove recognition of individuals the panel said supported slavery or systemic racism, triggering a clash with Trump administration officials who said they won’t allow changes to statues and monuments on federal land.

While its report did not provide details about the objections to each individual on the list, the committee said it considered if they participated in slavery, supported systemic racism or oppression, and any evidence the individual was part of a supremacist organization or violated any D.C. human rights laws.

Eight of the sites in the original report are on federal land managed by the National Park Service, and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, whose department oversees the National Park Service, tweeted “not on my watch.”

As of Wednesday, a report from the group had been updated to remove the recommendations regarding federal monuments but it had already sparked another clash between Bowser, a Democrat who has feuded with President Donald Trump, and his administration over how to handle monuments in the city.

The mayor and other D.C. officials have been critical of the president’s response to calls for racial justice and Black Lives Matter protests, include the debate over Confederate monuments.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany issued a statement calling Bowser “radically liberal,” pushing a left-wing narrative she said was also connected to protests around the country.

Her statement addressed only the idea of removing monuments, not changing them or adding context.

“President Donald J. Trump believes these places should be preserved, not torn down; respected, not hated; and passed on for generations to come,” McEnany said.

“As long as President Trump is in the White House, the mayor’s irresponsible recommendations will go absolutely nowhere, and as the mayor of our Nation’s capital city—a city that belongs to the American people—she ought to be ashamed for even suggesting them for consideration,” she said.

Bowser spokeswoman Latoya Foster said it was “interesting to see the White House comment on an intragovernmental report about how to recognize all sides of history,” adding they hoped the White House would push the U.S. Attorney in DC to prosecute outside agitators Bowser recently blamed for clashes between protesters and police.

“Mayor Bowser has asked the DC FACES Working Group to clarify and refine their recommendations to focus on local DC, so no one attempts to confuse the Working Group’s focus on contextualizing not removing important monuments and memorials in DC,” she said in a statement to ABC News.

A spokesman for Bernhardt’s office said the National Park Service already includes historical context at monuments and other sites. The former Acting Director of the National Park Service David Vela previously told ABC News the service has grappled with issues around sites associated with the Confederacy or slavery for a long time but the park service sees it’s role as preserving history for Americans to interpret rather than removing statues or memorials.

But the Jefferson Memorial’s website does not include any mentions that Jefferson was a slaveowner, even though his home at Monticello has been revised to include more information about the slaves that worked there including Sally Hemmings, a maid and enslaved woman who gave birth to at least six children fathered by Jefferson.

Some of his descendants have said the memorial in Washington should be removed because the context at Monticello is a more complete picture of his life as a historical figure and a slave owner.

After the statements from Bernhardt and the White House, the advisory group’s report posted on the city’s website appears to have been changed to remove the recommendations for federal monuments.

A version of the DC Facilities and Commemorative Expressions working group’s report that was posted online Wednesday did not include the page tweeted by Bernhardt, but included references to landmarks on federal land that were no longer published. An earlier version of the report referenced by the Washington Post included the page.

In addition to the recommendations about statues and monuments on federal land the report recommends DC consider renaming 21 public schools, 9 housing facilities, 12 parks, and 7 government buildings.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

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