Hundreds of public monuments have come down amid the racial reckoning sparked by the murder of George Floyd last year. Some were toppled by protesters armed with rope; others have been disassembled and carted away by professionals hired by local governments.
These removals may seem, well, monumental. But according to a study of U.S. public monuments, they’re a drop in the bucket, representing a mere 0.6 percent of the country’s nearly 50,000 monuments — monuments to historical figures who skew overwhelmingly White and male, including people who enslaved others, fought for the Confederacy, or never even set foot on American soil.
So who has been commemorated most often in stone, metal or wood? Unsurprisingly, Abraham Lincoln tops the list of historical figures most frequently honored with a public monument (193), edging out George Washington (171), according to the “National Monument Audit” by the nonprofit Monument Lab.
Christopher Columbus — who never visited mainland North America — comes in third, followed by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. At No. 5 is Saint Francis of Assisi, who also never contributed directly to American history, given that he died in Italy in 1226.
Of the 50 historical figures most frequently honored with a monument, only three were women: Joan of Arc, Sacagawea and Harriet Tubman. Tubman, the only one of the three who would have called herself American, was born enslaved and was not considered a citizen until she was in her 40s.
Of the men on the top 50 list, more than half were enslavers. Twelve were generals, 11 presidents and four Catholic saints or missionaries. Four were leaders of the Confederacy. Three men in the top 50 are men of color: King, Tecumseh and Frederick Douglass.