While the city of Washington, D.C. has openly promoted tearing down statues of America’s Founding Fathers, Hillsdale College’s Liberty Walk stands in distinct contrast. Hillsdale College, a small liberal arts college in southern Michigan, hosts an increasing array of original statues honoring men and women who have stood courageously for freedom.
Walking Hillsdale College’s Liberty Walk, one sees statues erected to founders such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson as well as others who have fought for liberty and equality such as Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Ronald Reagan, and Winston Churchill. Hillsdale also has the only statue in North America of Margaret Thatcher, Great Britain’s first female prime minister.
Far from tearing their statues down, Hillsdale plans to keep adding to the Liberty Walk. Every semester students send op-eds into the Hillsdale Collegian — the college’s student newspaper — with their suggestions on what historical figure should be honored next with a statue of their own.
In contrast to Hillsdale College, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser’s working group titled, “Commemorative Expressions Working Group” (DC-FACES) has determined in a report that 153 public spaces warrant renaming because they allegedly do not conform to DC values.
The DC-FACES group evaluated every public space that honors a historic person, from schools and parks to bridges and streets, based on whether the featured individual’s legacy conforms to the enigmatic values of identity politics such as diversity and inclusion. The report makes sure to point out that 70 percent of the buildings and statues honor white men and lists several disqualifying factors in a person’s history, including participation in slavery, systemic racism, or policies or legislation that suppress people based on color, sex, age, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or natural origin.
Based on this criterion, the group found public schools named after Alexander Graham Bell, James Monroe, Thomas Jefferson, Francis Scott Key, Woodrow Wilson, as well as more than a dozen others, must be renamed.
They also recommend that the mayor pressure the National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission to either “remove,” “relocate,” or “contextualize” — among others — a federal statue of Christopher Columbus, a federal statue of Benjamin Franklin, the Jefferson Memorial, and the Washington Monument.
Professor Lucas Morel, a Lincoln scholar who gave the dedicatory speech at Hillsdale College’s unveiling of their Douglass statue, disagrees with the group’s recommendation regarding the Washington Monument. He writes:
George Washington did not invent slavery, but more than any other American he was responsible for securing our independence and establishing the political institutions that have blessed succeeding generations with civil and religious liberty. As the beneficiaries of his and the founding generation’s efforts to establish legitimate government on principles of right rather than might, we do well to express our gratitude by continuing to honor them. That any committee even deigns to put Washington in the dock as unworthy of continued honor reflects a deficient understanding of that generation’s efforts to erect a novus ordo seclorum (New order of the ages) that would set the country on a path to abolishing slavery completely. Moreover, it shows how little they see the connection between what our revolutionary fathers accomplished and the present freedom they and fellow Americans enjoy.
Why, when much of the country is burning down, defacing, or seeking legal means by which to remove statues of America’s founders, is Hillsdale College putting up more?
For one, Hillsdale College has a long history of bucking the status quo. More recently, when some demanded that Hillsdale make a statement in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, the college declined. Instead, College leadership argued that in lieu of virtue signaling, the college’s actions are better than solely words. They wrote that the college’s founding, curriculum, mission, daily work of educating, and outreach to public and private schools in disadvantaged areas are all clear statements about what the college values:
Postgraduate programs with the express aim of advancing the ideas of human dignity, justice, equality, and the citizen as the source of the government’s power, these are all statements. And all of these statements are acts, deeds that speak, undertaken and perpetuated now, every day, all the time. Everything the College does, though its work is not that of an activist or agitator, is for the moral and intellectual uplift of all.
While Bowser thought it appropriate to paint a gigantic Black Lives Matter mural in front of a historic church that a BLM supporter set on fire, Hillsdale declines to kowtow to identity politics or erase America’s history. Instead, by erecting statues that honor our founding, they have demonstrated one of the cardinal virtues: courage.
It has never been more important to be reminded how hard the Founders fought to set up a constitutional structure that would establish a Republican form of government that simultaneously respects the voice of the people and protects individual rights. This is a time when we need more honor and respect for the Founding, not less. Hillsdale College’s Liberty Walk reminds us of just that.