Unlike you, I’ve actually been to the Stephen Douglas Tomb at 35th and Cottage Grove. Three years ago, at the invitation of Sherry Williams, president and founder of the Bronzeville Historical Society. The BHS had stashed its collection in the tombkeeper’s house and was being kicked out — by the Illinois Historical Preservation Agency, ironically enough.
I mean, I assume you haven’t been there. Maybe you have, on a school field trip or something. So I apologize. It’s bad practice to make broad statements about groups of people you don’t know. A kind of prejudice, really, no matter who does it.
Where was I? The Douglas Tomb. Not a must-see spot. Not exactly the Bean. As a fan of historic preservation, I was sorry to see the society’s collection, meager though it is, without a home.
Which tips my hand regarding the statue. There’s no question Douglas was a bad guy — Williams called him “despicable.” He not only owned slaves but treated them so badly that other slaveholders complained, which is really saying a lot. Douglas was something worse than a sincere advocate of slavery — he did so cynically, politically, to hoover up votes from displaced Southerners downstate.
So ditch the statue? Honestly, it’s not my call. Whose call is it? J.B. Pritzker’s? Three state reps wrote the governor Tuesday asking that the 9-foot-tall statue be removed from its 96-foot granite pedestal and the site no longer promoted to tourists.
If you’re asking me — OK, you’re not, but let’s pretend — I view the site as a complete historical artifact. The tomb of Douglas. After he died, the neighborhood became a brutal prisoner-of-war camp for Confederate soldiers, plus a few stray traitors like former Chicago Mayor Buckner Morris, held for nine months for conspiring with the Confederacy to free prisoners. (Is his portrait up with the rest of Chicago’s mayors outside Lori Lightfoot’s office? Still waiting to hear. Another problem with purging history of the unworthy: it’s an endless task).
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