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Columnist Sharon Nesbit says the toppling of statues should not be left to mobs, no matter how well motivated.

SHARON NESBITOK, this is Fourth of July weekend and I am heartily weary of mobs toppling statues. And disgusted with good citizens trying to placate the angry by running ahead knocking over any symbols that might become a target.

I worry that this week someone will discover something horrible about Betsy Ross — no doubt she underpaid her household help — and the star spangled banner will go in the shredder.

I have written before about toppling statues and memorials when I think it is more important to see them as learning tools. When you visit the south and see a statue praising Jefferson Davis, president of the failed and defeated confederacy, you learn something when you understand that it was placed there 100 years after the Civil War by die-hards still seeking honor in this country's bloodiest war.

I do not grieve the loss of the Confederate flag, but I think we should keep it around to remind people of the futility of lost causes.

I grieve the loss of the statue of Thomas Jefferson in the recent Black Lives Matter march in Portland. Such decisions should not be left to mobs, no matter how well motivated.

Mob mentality ruled that Jefferson owned slaves, so he had to go. Luckily George Washington wasn't handy that night. Both were slave owners.

But those who toppled Jefferson did so under the protection of a declaration he wrote — all men are created equal — and a government he nourished.

In order to knit 13 cranky colonies together, the founders of our country had to pull slave states into an imperfect union.

We can argue now that they should have done better, but we are talking about people who left their homes and families, sat in endless meetings and fought a long war to build a nation. And they still had the rent to pay.

They knew full well that it was not a perfect union and that slavery would have to be dealt with later. But for the moment they had their hands full and their pants to hold up facing a cranky king and the world's greatest power.

Likewise, Christopher Columbus is in the hot seat though he was never a favorite of this country's indigenous people.

Native Americans don't celebrate Columbus Day for good reason. The first folks Columbus met in the new world, he said, would make admirable slaves. But anyone gutsy enough to challenge the flat-world concept was unlikely to be a far-sighted diplomat with a deep understanding of new world social issues.

Our assumption these days is that these statues represent heroes. They should be reminders and opportunities to understand that they and we, though imperfect, still struggle to make life better in the difficult times allotted to us.

Eradicating their images only makes us dumber.

Sharon Nesbit can be reached at

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