Saturday, June 20, 2020

Another one bites the dust - Ulysses S Grant statue down in San Francisco

The 'recreational rioting' that we in Northern Ireland have become familiar with over too many generations is now happening in other places. I have stayed away from the mainstream news as much as possible during lockdown but you'd have to have been on a different planet to have missed it. According to Twitter, the images here are of the statue of President Ulysses S Grant in San Francisco which was pulled down in the small hours of last night. Grant? Grant? The ironies cannot be overstated. Here it is in its original state.

Of Grant, the Black Abolitionist Frederick Douglass (who visited Belfast and lectured here in the 1840s) said this –

"No man in high position has manifested in his intercourse with me upon all occasions and in all places a more entire freedom from vulgar prejudice of race and color, than Ulysses S. Grant ... I see in him the vigilant, firm, impartial, and wise protector of my race from all the malign, reactionary, social, and political elements that would overwhelm them in destruction."

This illustration celebrates Grant's Fifteenth Amendment of 3 February 1870, which granted African American men the right to vote. Douglas' friend, the African-American Baptist pastor, campaigner and author George Washington Williams, in his 1885 History of the Negro Race in America, wrote that with this momentous change, Grant had done more for Black Americans than even Abraham Lincoln had done –

"The Emancipation Proclamation itself did not call forth such genuine and widespread rejoicing as the message of President Grant. The event was celebrated by the Colored people in all the larger cities North and South. Processions, orations, music and dancing proclaimed the unbounded joy of the new citizen ... a new era was opened up before the Colored people. They were now for the first time in possession of their full political rights..." (online here)

Soon after, Grant appointed former slave James Milton Turner (1840–1915, who as a boy had been sold for $50 on the steps of St Louis Courthouse in Missouri) as Consul General to Liberia.

Some of the supposedly "woke" turn out to be a bit dozy.

• History is full of darkness and horrors.

• It also shines with moments of light and hope and the co-operation of human solidarity.

• Disbelieve anyone who insists that there has only ever been injustice and exploitation and oppression across particular 'people groups'. Disbelieve it in Ulster, in Ireland and around the world.

However, if we dig through the history of everyone who ever lived on this planet, and knock down every one of our own personal little self-statues, there will be just One who'll make the grade.


• Williams' Wikipedia page is here. A 'Son of Ulster', President Chester Alan Arthur (whose father's home cottage is at Dreen near Cullybackey) appointed Williams as Consul General to Haiti and San Domingo. Another President of Ulster ancestry, Grover Cleveland, appointed African-American John E W Thompson to that same position.