Statue Takedown Saga Continues: Today Rizzo, tomorrow Lincoln?
July 1, 2020
Protestors and government officials across the USA are removing statues as we speak. The statues targeted are usually ones from the Civil War era or America’s founding that some believe support politically incorrect ideas or movements. However, very few of PA’s statues have been targeted for removal. Why is that?
Well, there aren’t many Confederate statues outside of Gettysburg and even then, the Gettysburg Confederate statues are dedicated to those who died rather than some Southern “Lost Cause.” Not to mention that during the Civil War era Pennsylvian’s southernmost border was a key destination point for much of the Underground Railroad that brought freed blacks to safety. Moreover, PA residents were stalwart supporters of Lincoln, his party (the Republican Party), and the Union war effort.
A notable exception is the statue of Frank Rizzo in Philadelphia. His statue was removed by the mayor in June and it wasn’t much of a surprise. Rizzo had served as mayor from 1972 until 1980 and was a source of controversy even during his own day. He was among the larger-than-life mayors who are produced by America’s large cities. Some saw him as a figure who came to embody the city to residents and outsiders alike.
But Rizzo was a complex figure.
On one hand, Rizzo was very much a man of the neighborhoods of Philly. He began as a policeman walking the beat from South Philadelphia and rose to become Police Commissioner. Philadelphia is a city filled with the children and grandchildren of immigrants from every corner of Europe. So, Rizzo meant a lot as the first Italian-American to rise to prominence—a man who spoke in the accents of their neighborhood and dealt comfortably with the Center City business elite.
On the other hand, r tensions were notably high during Rizzo’s time in office. He faced allegations that he created a culture of police brutality and he was accused of race-baiting in his campaigns For example, Rizzo campaigned in 1978 to change the city charter so he could seek a third term. He infamously encouraged his supporters to “vote White,” which many saw as racial pandering.
Reactions to the removal of Rizzo’s statue were mixed, and not entirely predictable. There’s no question that the statue was an attractive nuisance for protests; nonetheless one Democratic friend of mine spoke for many as she said “he was Philly.” Still, for centuries schoolchildren have learned the line from Julius Caesar “the evil that men do lives after them” and so it seems to be for Frank Rizzo.