George Printice was a man of great power and influence in the 1840s and beyond. As editor of the Louisville Journal, a newspaper considered the “best in the west,” he wrote biting and militant editorials that fed the haters of his day. He was pro-slavery, anti-immigrant, and anti-Catholic. He and his followers did not like those who were “different.” He wrote about the “pestilent influence of the foreign swarms” loyal to a pope who was “an inflated despot who keeps people kissing his toes all day.”
On August 6, 1855, 22 Irish-Americans and German-Americans were killed by a mob trying to prevent them from voting. “Bloody Monday” followed numerous editorials that fed the bigoted spirits of that day.
Years later, George Printice, who was a member of the “Know Nothing” party (aptly named), was honored with a statue placed in front of the main library in Louisville. Seated in a chair, he presided over the people walking in front of the library every day. The irony of placing a renowned bigot in front of a building that represents learning and the pursuit of truth is stunning. After numerous protests the statue was removed in 2018.
Why is this story important and why is this statue important? We find similar stories of statues being removed and confederate flags no longer flying around the country. The governor of Virginia has ordered the removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond. Southerners revered Lee and northern generals respected him. Many southerners are upset, saying, “This is heritage, not hatred,” or “this is history, not hatred.”
Racism comes in many forms. Many African-Americans and white citizens see the confederate flag as a symbol of slavery, lynchings, segregation, and Jim Crow. The confederate flag and these monuments are a vivid reminder of a brutal and painful history.
The rotunda in the state capital of Kentucky hosts a statue of Abraham Lincoln, born in Kentucky, and Jefferson Davis, president of the confederacy, also born in Kentucky. The governor of Kentucky has ordered the statue of Davis removed.
We are reminded every day of the consequences of systemic racism. Protests will continue. Demands for changes in state and federal laws that enable abuse by police will continue. Racism is a “pandemic within a pandemic” and will continue as long as we look the other way.
The issue of offensive statues and confederate flags is not trivial. Both stand as signs that racism has a long history that continues today with those monuments as reminders. They continue to be a slap in the face of African-Americans. Our “heritage” needs to be a history of justice for all, freedom for the oppressed poor and marginalized. If we can move forward there will be no need for professional football players to kneel during the national anthem, for people to protest in our streets, or for men and women to die needlessly.