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Enlighten Me: Statue controversy conversation

City of Wilmington

This summer, two statues were taken down in the City of Wilmington.

One, of Christopher Columbus. The other, of Declaration of Independence signer and slave-owner Caesar Rodney.

Delaware Public Media’s Sophia Schmidt talks with Delaware Historical Society director David Young, about what monuments really say about history, and why they stir up controversy.

Two controversial statues taken down in Wilmington this summer are still in storage — and the promised community conversations about their fate have yet to be scheduled.

The City took down the statues of Christopher Columbus and Declaration of Independence signer and slave owner Caesar Rodney in anticipation of protests. 

The removal brought its own backlash. Supporters of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Lauren Witzke staged a rally calling for the monuments to be restored. 

David Young is executive director of the Delaware Historical Society, which has offered to help facilitate conversations about the statutes. He notes the Caesar Rodney statue was put up during the early 20th century, in a time of demographic change and idealization of the past. Young says many monuments erected during that time were statements of power.

“Statues are not history,” said Young. “Monuments are not history. They express community values at a certain point.”

A virtual forum hosted by Preservation Delaware and UD’s Center for Historic Architecture and Design this week aimed to bring “peace” to the “monument wars.” 

“It’s really going to be about how each community approaches the opportunity to reimagine those spaces, whether the monument is retained or not,” said historian and Wilmington resident Cheryl Gooch during the forum. “What are some of the interpretive spaces that can be created to engage visitors like me?”

Caesar Rodney owned around two hundred slaves on his plantation, Byfield, which is on the eastern edge of what is now the Dover Air Force Base.


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