The current political climate in both the US and the UK is very unsettling, there are deep divisions in the UK with Brexit and in the US we are witnessing violent clashes between left and right with tragedy never far behind. With this has come a fervent hatred of the racists and wrong doers of the past, and quite rightly so, which leads us to the current wave of pulling down statues of any historical figure that had anything to do with the Confederacy. This in turn brings me onto Albert Pike, who served as a Confederate Officer, though only for a relatively short period, Pike resigning from the Confederate States Army after a falling out with superior officers.
Pike is the only Confederate Officer to have an outdoor statue in Washington DC, but it is not for his Confederate service that he is honoured and the statue presents Pike in civilian dress. According to recent reports, Pike’s statue is under threat from certain groups who want to remove it as a perceived monument to racism,[i] but the statue celebrates Pike as a Freemason who re-modelled the Scottish Rite and supported Masonic education. Pike was far from racist and was a well respected advocate for the rights of Native Americans. He was a complex man, he was highly intelligent, working as a lawyer and a writer, and the nineteenth century world was of course very different from ours, but there is no evidence at all to suggest he was ever a member of the Ku Klux Klan and he denounced the slave trade at a Convention in Red Rock in December 1856 (Tresner, Heredom, 8, 2000).[ii]
I’m not keen on statues myself, I prefer monuments that represent the mind of the person who is to be celebrated, such as the tunnels of Joseph Williamson in Liverpool, which conveys his philanthropic and eccentric nature and also presents not just the skills of Williamson, but of the Liverpool craftsmen who were employed by Williamson during a time of economic uncertainty during the early nineteenth century. The drinking fountain memorials of Liverpool are another example, the Christopher Rawdon drinking fountain in Anfield being a fine example of a functioning memorial that benefitted the people who did not have access to clean drinking water.
Statues have always been the focus of destruction, in ancient Greece, Rome, Constantinople, from the destruction of the giant Buddha’s in Afghanistan by the Taliban to the recent destruction of Palmyra by ISIS. One belief system tries to destroy the other. I recall how during the Liverpool race riots that occurred in Toxteth, 1981, the statue of William Huskisson – an early nineteenth century MP for Liverpool – was allegedly pulled down as the rioters presumed the statue was of a slave-trader. Huskisson was not a slave-trader.[iii] Neither was Pike.
[i] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/confederate-statue-washington-dc-protests_us_59934d38e4b04b193360f21f [Last accessed 17th August 2017]
[ii] http://www.freemasons-freemasonry.com/pike_speech.html#_edn10 [Last accessed 17th August 2017]
[iii] http://www.liverpoolmonuments.co.uk/statue/huskisson05.html [Last accessed 17th August 2017]