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County executive Frank White calls for statues of Jackson to be moved

Mike Genet
mike.genet@examiner.net
The statue of Andrew Jackson, the county's namesake, sits on the west end of the Truman Courthouse on the Independence Square. County Executive Frank White Jr. called for this statue and one of the former president in front of the Jackson County Courthouse in downtown Kansas City to be removed and moved to a "a better home."

After protesters Thursday afternoon spray painted the statue of Andrew Jackson in front of the Jackson County Courthouse in downtown Kansas City, County Executive Frank White Jr. called for both county statues of Jackson to be removed.

The other statue is in front of Historic Truman Courthouse on the Independence Square.

In a statement released Thursday evening, White said he planned to call on the County Legislature to start the process of removing the statues during Monday’s meeting. That would begin with a special committee to hold public hearings. Ultimately, White said in part, he hopes to work with elected officials “to find a better home for these statues where their history can be put into the appropriate context for us to learn from, but I am convinced that home is not in front of our courthouses.”

Kansas City Police said they arrested two men after some officers witnessed a crowd spray-painting the downtown statue. Among the words painted was “slave owner.”

In December 2019, the County Legislature voted to place plaques at both statues that described the seventh president’s complicated and painful legacy, including his owning slaves and as president signing Indian Removal Act that forced thousands of Native Americans out of the southeast United States in the 1830s. County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker had said her office would pay for the plaques.

The county was named Jackson County in 1826 in honor of Gen. Jackson, two years before he was elected the country’s seventh president. He is astride a horse in both statues at the Downtown Courthouse and the Truman Courthouse.

The two statues currently have little written information. The downtown statue just says “Andrew Jackson,” and the Independence statue notes that it was presented to the county by President Truman in 1949.

In his statement, White said in part that in the month since George Floyd’s killing at the hands of Minneapolis police, what had been “a small minority pleading for change, has grown into a broad and diverse chorus of voices no longer pleading, but now demanding equality and making clear they will settle for nothing less.”

White acknowledged that his request will be unpopular with some people but said it speaks toward ensuring “everyone feels safe, feels welcome, and ultimately, is treated equally in Jackson County.

“Countless men, women and children come through the doors of our courthouses every day,” his statement continued, in part. “And every day, racism and discrimination are staring them in the face. Statues of Andrew Jackson … stand outside two of our courthouses, public buildings where we want and need people to feel welcome. Yet, they are greeted by a man who owned hundreds of slaves, opposed the abolitionist movement and caused thousands of Native Americans to die when he forced them out of their homeland for white settlement. As long as these statues remain, our words about fairness, justice and equality will continue to ring hollow for many we serve.

“Let me be clear – we can never erase history. It is already written. But we don’t need symbols to remind us of the decades of oppression endured by people of color when that is the very thing we are desperately trying to dismantle and heal from today. Like all great counties, this is an opportunity for us to change and evolve together, for the better.”

This is language for the planned Jackson statue plaques that had been approved by legislators six months ago:

“In 1826, the Missouri State Legislature named this county after the hero of the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812 – Andrew Jackson – nearly three years before he became the nation’s seventh President. Almost two centuries later, we hold a broader, more inclusive view of our nation. Jackson’s ownership of slaves and his support for the Indian Removal Act are part of his history. The act forced Native Americans from their home territories so that white settlers could live there and triggered the Trail of Tears, a 1,000-mile march resulting in the death of thousands, including an estimated one-quarter of the entire Cherokee nation.”

“This statue of Jackson reminds us we are on a path that in the immortal works of Martin Luther King, Jr., bends toward justice. In turn, we must acknowledge past injustices to help us create a greater nation built upon humane policies to light our way and the way of humanity everywhere.”

“You may be entering this revered building today in a pursuit of truth or justice. Welcome. Your own history is still being written.”

Information from Examiner editor Jeff Fox was used in this report.