Voiceless should have a say in monument removal debate

By Editorial Board

In the wake of protests over monuments commemorating controversial, historical figures, Mayor Rahm Emanuel stated Aug. 23 he was open to removing a statue and renaming a street that glorify Italian fascism.

In 1933, Fascist Prime Minister of Italy Benito Mussolini gave the city of Chicago a monument of Italo Balbo, an Italian Air Force Marshal who helped bring Mussolini to power, to celebrate the first transatlantic flight from Rome to Chicago. This monument near Soldier Field, along with Balbo Drive in the South Loop, is now part of the ongoing national debate about who should be publicly honored after the Aug. 12 violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

The mayor’s comments came after two aldermen—Edward Burke (14th Ward) and Gilbert Villegas (36th Ward)—re-ignited a campaign to expunge Balbo from Chicago’s landscape. The effort was unsuccessful in the past, but as southern cities begin to take down Confederate monuments, the pressure mounts for Chicago to take similar action. 

In addition, some have pushed for a name change for  Washington and Jackson parks on the predominantly black South Side because they find it offensive to honor  two slave-owning presidents in this community. Emanuel has rejected this idea because both fought for  “a more perfect union,” according to an Aug. 17 DNAinfo article. However, the mayor—or any local official—should not decide whom the city honors  without public participation. If Chicago wants to right past wrongs against marginalized communities, those voices should lead the discussions. If residents come to the conclusion that it is inappropriate to honor figures such as Balbo, Washington or Jackson, city officials should oblige without question.

Considering many Chicagoans were not aware of who Balbo was or what he stood for, there should be a push for Americans to be properly educated for the deep perspective and thought needed in these debates. The violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, has been a catalyst for reflection on whom is given recognition with monuments, street names or parks throughout the country. Without the horrific images of violence and racist demonstrations, these discussions might have never happened.

Governments should not wait until the next tragedy to atone for historical wrongdoings. Instead, there must be comprehensive, nuanced education with a fact-based perspective of historical figures instead of blindly honoring those who, despite their contributions to the country, committed wrongs against diverse groups in the U.S. 

The realities and perspectives of the underserved have been omitted from history books, resulting in a warped view of the past for many Americans. Before action is taken, these groups should have the opportunity to lead discussions and assist educating the public.