Monuments and Markers: A Guide for Decision Making
By Megan Wood
Our staff are often asked how to deal with decision making around taking down monuments and markers. While we continue to work on our own site system and projects to better reflect our values and the complete history of the people of this land we now call Ohio, we also wanted to provide some thoughtful guidance for local communities that are making their own decisions about statues and monuments.
The outcome may be different in every case, but as the statewide steward for Ohio history, we recommend an approach that takes a critical look at the past, present, and future, to make decisions that are inclusive and well-informed.
The gathered advice and resources are intended for individuals and institutions weighing decisions on the removal or reinterpretation of a monument or historical marker of any type. This guide will offer tools to help communities manage change in thoughtful ways that do not disconnect them from the full legacies of the past and the potential for its future.
There is no one way or right way to go about this process, but the outlined steps below may help you find the path forward that best serves your communities. One step does not necessary proceed another, and not every step may apply, but some combination of these and other actions can inform the process.
Understand the ownership and authority of the monument or marker
Monuments or markers may be the property of a municipality, or may fall under the purview of a private property owner. It is helpful to understand who owns the statue and who is responsible for its maintenance, care, and has the authority to decide its ultimate fate. This is also a good time to reach out to the person or institution and gauge a willingness to engage in conversation about whether the monument or marker represents the type of story or image that is reflective of the current communities.
Research the origins of the monument or marker
The time period that a marker or monument was erected can help to understand the context and the intent. Newspaper articles and other local material can help provide a clearer picture of why the monument or marker was put up in the first place, which can inform further conversations and decision making.
Research on the subject of the marker or monument
Any monument or marker is an incomplete story by its nature. There is limited space and attention to fully articulate the person, place, or event that it is meant to honor. If the process goes on to include community conversations, hearings in front of decision-making bodies, or work with schools and educators, it is imperative to tell a full and complete picture of the subject. Any research should include a bibliography and rely on multiple sources. It is sometimes helpful to reach out to faculty or professors who have subject-matter expertise related to the topic.
Engage in community dialogue
Using well-thought out research and information, there is an opportunity to share what has been learned and to share recommendations for the future of the monument or marker and allow others to contribute their thoughts and feelings. It takes skill to facilitate this type of dialogue, so engaging with someone who does this kind of work regularly (a skilled facilitator) and who will allow all voices at the table to be heard, will make this more productive. Work to create a space that values the voices of minority communities and does not shut out dissent.
Make a recommendation
An argument based on research and community dialogue will have at least three possible outcomes:
- Leave the monument and marker as is
- Re-interpret the monument or marker by adding to, removing part, or adapting
- Take the monument or marker down
Make an impact
No matter which paths you or your community selects, doing so without making changes or enhancing understanding in other ways, will leave little impact on future citizens. Just reinterpreting or taking down a statue may accomplish a short term goal, but may do little in the way of changing understanding of history or for creating broader empathy. Making an impact can include:
- Creating library or community programming that tells the story of the community struggling with their monument or marker
- Work with the local school district to change curriculum
- Work with the local historical society or museum on how to capture and tell the story either through programming, exhibits, or the collecting of relevant materials
National Trust for Historic Preservation Statement on Confederate Monuments- https://savingplaces.org/press-center/media-resources/national-trust-statement-on-confederate-memorials#.XvooYShKjIU
American Historical Association Statement on Confederate Monuments- https://www.historians.org/news-and-advocacy/aha-advocacy/aha-statement-on-confederate-monuments
Library of Virginia, Civic Conversations on Monuments- https://edu.lva.virginia.gov/a-conversation-about-monuments/
Americans: A Dialogue Toolkit for Educators, National Museum of the American Indian- https://americanindian.si.edu/sites/1/files/pdf/education/NMAI-Americans-dialogue-toolkit.pdf
Case Study Confederate Street Names and Monuments in Atlanta, Georgia, Atlanta History Center- https://www.atlantahistorycenter.com/research/confederate-monuments/case-studies