In September 2017, two monuments honoring African-Americans were stolen from Maya Angelou City Park in Stamps, Arkansas, shortly after the small town’s first African-American mayor took office. The memorials honored poet and activist Maya Angelou, who was born in Stamps, as well as two state legislators who were born into slavery but later served in the Arkansas House. No arrests have been made, and many people believe the thefts are racially motivated.
Mayor Brenda Davis said, “I don’t know if it’s a message because I’m the first African-American woman as mayor. It makes you wonder, but I wouldn’t speculate.”
The markers have been in the park for at least a year.
The theft of the monuments is almost certainly a backlash against Mayor Davis, and is quite literally an act of stealing black voices from history and legitimizing African-Americans’ contributions to the country. America has systematically and relentlessly buried black achievements and ignored black excellence. The monuments in the park served as a reminder that African-Americans are smart, talented, and powerful. Of course, a white supremacist’s worst nightmare is a black person who embodies these admirable traits.
Additionally, by stealing the monuments, the
thieves racists most likely intended to send a warning to Mayor Davis. Taking the historical markers from the park was not just a way to erase black voices, but also an attempt to intimidate the new mayor. It was a deliberate attack on her power and position in the town. It was meant to scare her, to remind her that African-Americans are disposable.
The heinous act is akin to lynching. There was no rope in this case, but there was a motive: to shut up African-Americans and perpetuate white supremacy. This was absolutely an attempt to scare Mayor Davis and the African-American community in Stamps.
What makes this violence even more appalling is that there’s been no national news coverage of it, and very few local outlets have had much to say about it, either.
Contrast this with the outrage white Americans expressed this past summer and fall when cities around the nation started denouncing and taking down Confederate statues. Bigoted people were frothing at the mouth, screaming about “Southern history” and “Southern pride.” These people are apparently proud of domestic terrorists and monuments that glorify the torture, violence, inequality, and hatefulness that African-Americans have experienced for generations at the hands of white Americans.
So America throws tantrums when citizens concerned with justice and representation demolish statues and markers that represent centuries of human suffering, but we don’t bat an eye when memorials dedicated to African-Americans are vandalized or stolen?
Where’s the self-righteous outrage? Where are all the white people complaining history is being taken away?
Don’t they realize that black history hasn’t even been recognized in most American public schools, museums, and other educational environments? African-Americans have had their history demonized and invalidated by white people, but when black people honor prominent leaders, they are faced with racism and torment.
This is the problem: white people only care about issues that infringe on their privilege or otherwise dismantle white supremacy. Media outlets only report on the problems that angry white people deem worthy. They focus less on the nooses found in workplaces, museums, schools, and locker rooms, and more on indignant white people who are mad that they can’t fly their racist Confederate flags. Black history has been ignored and pushed down for centuries, and even when towns and cities make progress by honoring influential black leaders, writers, businesspeople, artists, politicians, and doctors, there is always the possibility of entitled racists destroying the monuments that commemorate these accomplishments.
The thefts in Stamps are a reminder of how far we still have to go in representing and recognizing black people as equal human beings. We need to show our outrage when African-American communities are targeted.