EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. — Residents of a Metro East community want a statue of the state’s third governor removed from a public plaza, arguing that he owned slaves and used his power to protect the practice.
Nearly 500 people have joined a Facebook group that supports petitioning the city of Edwardsville to tear down a Ninian Edwards statue and also rename a plaza with his moniker, according to The Edwardsville Intelligencer.
“Edwards’ legacy is one of causing misery and pain to thousands of Black Americans,” the group said. “Publicly honoring Edwards, as the city currently does, honors his harmful, racist beliefs and actions.”
Edwards, who died in 1833, is also the namesake of Edwardsville, but residents aren’t pushing to rename the community of about 24,000 people roughly 25 miles from St. Louis.
Lifelong Edwardsville resident Kirk Schlueter started the effort after researching Edwards’ history.
“This is just one way we can help the civil rights movement that is happening all over the nation and the world,” he said. “This is really a multiracial movement for equality.”
Confederate monuments and other statues have been removed in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. Demonstrations sparked by his killing have called for an end to police brutality and racism around the world.
Edwardsville officials said they would consider the request.
“City officials are receiving emails over the statue and we will have conversations regarding their thoughts,” Mayor Hal Patton said. “This is a slippery slope, taking down history, but Ninian was on the horrific side of history.”
Among other political offices, Edwards served as the first governor of the Illinois Territory, becoming the third governor after statehood in the early 1800s, according to the National Governors Association.
The Facebook group cites instances where Edwards did not free slaves who worked on his Kentucky plantation. He also used a veto during his territorial governorship to kill an 1817 bill abolishing the state’s “indentured servitude” system, which many historians say was a defacto form of slavery.
But not everyone agrees with the group’s position.
Local historian Cindy Reinhardt thinks the statue should remain.
“My personal opinion is that there are people who don’t like the looks of that statue and so, they’re just making an excuse for it,” she told the newspaper. “We can’t assess history through the lens of modern sensibility.”
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