Oakland’s Stephen Foster statue causes controversy

Alison Caracciolo | Staff Columnist

Damon Young, a nationally known blogger of Very Smart Brothas, is calling it the most racially insensitive statue, and it is located here in Pittsburgh. The question now is, “What do we do about the Stephen Foster Statue?”

Stephen Foster, a famous Pittsburgh native and known as the “Father of American Music,” was a songwriter in the early 1800’s who was the first to use enslaved African Americans in his songs. Foster is best known for songs like “Oh! Susana,” and “Camptown Races.” Foster’s songs have been heard and sung through every generation. He is a historic musical legend. But with recent media coverage, people are acknowledging him as another racist, white American.

His statue is located in Oakland between the Carnegie Museum of Art and the Carnegie Library. The man behind the construction of the statue, Giuseppe Moretti, depicts Foster in a visionary daze while the shoeless, raggedy banjo player gives him inspiration.

This statue couldn’t capture a more stereotypical image of a black man in comparison to a white man. Stephen Foster is praised around the world for his contribution to American music, but the way Moretti decided to give tribute to Foster did not serve him any honor, rather shame, and now he is casted in a negative light. The way I see modern society advances the more I see the growth of inequality among one another.

These monuments are honoring predominantly white American men during a time where our nation was at extreme odds with African Americans and equal rights. Yes, these men deserve a spot in history but do they deserve a statue in today’s society, probably not.

Paradise Gray, a hip-hop activist, musician and writer told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, “He’s doing what the music industry does today: He’s got a black slave playing the music, and he’s going to end up with the copyright.”

On the contrary, local news station KDKA reports that not everyone believes the 120 year old statue should be destroyed.

The President of the Lawrenceville Historical Society Tom Powers told KDKA that this statue is a monument dedicated to one of the most famous musicians in 19th century American History. Powers believes this statue should stay to showcase American history for the good and bad, should be acknowledged as a teaching moment and have some placecard to detail why this statue was made in the first place.

On one hand I do agree with Powers. Our nation is not what it is today because we had a perfect track record. Rather, we have evolved because of misfortune, tragedies and defeats. With the recent presidential election and protests in Charlottesville, racial diversities have been on high, and I can understand the concern or pain that it may cause current members of society.

This also raises the question and concern of other monuments across the U.S. Many statues depicting a confederate soldier have been defaced or taken down due to vandalization and recent rallies. The statue of General Robert E. Lee on the campus of Duke University, for example, was vandalized, and the president of the university took down the statue immediately after.

I think the recent intense, hate-filled rallies of white nationalists has made statues like these painful to look at. It is like an instant reminder of the inequalities still in this world today. So what should Pittsburgh do with the Stephen Foster statue? Foster, without a doubt, deserves a remembrance for his impact on American popular music and the fact he was from the city of Pittsburgh.

I think every opinion and voice should be heard, and if they decide to take down the statue I think the city should find another way to showcase his importance to the city. I believe if it wasn’t for the heightened sensitivity around racial differences, the issue about the Stephen Foster statue would not be this controversial. I almost feel bad that such a historical icon is receiving such a negative backlash, but on the other hand I can see why. There are so many other ways to give recognition to Stephen Foster, rather than this racially offensive statue.
It is a shame we have come to a point where everyone seems to be walking on eggshells around one another, especially when around a diverse group of people. It’s like we are all waiting for that one person to explode because they were offended in some way.

It seems our world has been at odds with each other, where everyone is skating by on a very thin layer of ice. Monuments like that of the Stephen Foster statue are taunting the devil to play with fire.

1 Comment

  1. The best solution to this particular instance would be to replace the statue with one of Stephen Foster which represents him as the Pittsburgher and musician that he was.

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