Mr Potts Assembly - Statues

Assembly June 16th 2020
For the past week or so one subject seems to have dominated the news bulletins and been the topic of public debate: statues.

For most of our lives we’ve probably all walked past statues in our town centres and public spaces without really giving much thought to who the people are and why they’ve been commemorated in this way. All of a sudden though, we all seem obsessed with statues and we all seem to have an opinion about who should – and shouldn’t – have a statue erected in their honour.

Now, I’m not even going to try come up to an answer to that question but I thought it’d be interesting to look at a couple of examples where the argument is not quite as straight forward as some people would have you believe.

Probably the most controversial and divisive subject of a statue is in this country at the moment is Winston Churchill. To many, Churchill is a national hero and, as recently as 2002, he was voted the greatest ever Briton for the his leadership of the country at the outbreak of World War II, when our very existence was at stake. To his critics though, Churchill was an imperialist, a colonialist bully and – according to some – a racist. And I guess the one question we all have to answer is: were the undoubtedly great things he achieved enough to outweigh some of the more negative things that he’s also now remembered for.

Casting an eye across the Atlantic to the United States of America, the figure of George Washington sits proudly at the head of Mount Rushmore, alongside Lincoln, Jefferson and Roosevelt. To many Americans, Washington is feted as the hero who led the country to independence from the British empire. Yet, more recently, Washington’s position as a slave owner has caused others to challenge his legacy and even question whether his image should be removed from Mount Rushmore altogether.

Looking much, much closer to home, Fulneck’s own Richard Oastler is commemorated by a statue in the centre of Bradford and he also has parks, streets and even one of our houses named in his honour, for his role as a philanthropist, abolitionist and social reformer. But 15 minutes on Google would quickly unearth that – particularly by modern day standards – some of Oastler’s views on other subjects were not quite as creditable. And, again, we’re left to ponder the question: are those negatives enough to outweigh the many good things a person does.

I’ll confess: I quite like statues but I’m relieved that it’s not me who has to decide whether Churchill’s role in defeating Nazism supersedes some of his other actions. And I’m definitely glad that the question of whether slave-owning George Washington is fit to be a national hero is something best left to the people of America.

But the one thing I feel we can all take from this re-examining of history is this: throughout our lives we’ll hopefully all have the opportunity to strive for great achievements and provide a service to others. But, as we’re all human, we’ll probably all stumble at times and we’ll all do and say things that we’ll later come to regret.

I guess, in the final reckoning, what we’ve all got to strive to do is ensure that the good that we do in life is enough to obscure the memory of any words and actions that we might later regret.

Thanks for listening, take care and I’ll definitely see you all soon.

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