With the process of renaming Ninian Edwards Plaza officially underway, Our Edwardsville has made it clear their work is nowhere near done. This weekend, they showed this in a new way: they hosted their first protest.
The protest, which took place in the plaza, consisted of about 50 people. Those people chanted, sang and read poetry. Information was read on Edwards’s history as a slave owner and active opposer of Indigenous people.
At the end of the protest, chains were wrapped around the statue’s ankles, and a sack was placed over its head. This was done while Asher Denkyirah, a graduate student in business administration management from Glen Carbon, Illinois, read the names of Edwards’ slaves, and the protest observed a moment of silence for the slaves and Indigenous people that Edwards harmed. The statue’s head was covered in this way so that Edwards would not be present for the memorialization of the dead.
One of the speakers during the protest was Deb Lovekamp, of Collinsville, Illinois, who is a member of FOURward, a local group that promotes educational equity and policy reform. Although she is not Black, Lovekamp said she feels this movement is important to everyone, regardless of identity. Lovekamp also said she was happy to see both Our Edwardsville and FOURward gain support.
“This relates to everybody. When you’re talking about helping everyone, it should be everyone. Yes, this is focused on Black Lives Matter, but it’s evolved past that. I’m talking about women, [transgender] people and the LGBTQ[+] community, Hispanics, Indigenous people, all of them,” Lovekamp said. “To say that this doesn’t relate to you [because you aren’t Black], you’re human, it absolutely relates to you.”
Romeo Spells, a senior sociology major, from Belleville, Illinois, said he was happy to see many different people supporting the relocation of the statue, even though he only recently became involved. Spells led the group in song throughout the protest.
“I heard about [Our Edwardsville] recently. Ezra [Temko, assistant professor of sociology,] was one of my professors, and he sent me an email, and asked if I would be willing to help sing some songs … which led me into looking into it more,” Spells said. “I like to see the support that we’re having out here. It’s not just people here with signs. There’s people driving by, honking from the road.”
Senior psychology major Mahdi Gourdine, of Collinsville, Illinois, read a poem they wrote during the p. Gourdine said they knew of Edwards’ history before now, but they are happy that there’s a movement to contextualize his history.
“I was aware of the history of the statue a couple years ago when I took a class at SIUE called Race and Ethnic Relations, and I started learning the history of the town. At the time, it was a lot more controversial to be against the statue. Then, one of my former professors [Temko] sent me a link through Facebook and asked if I wanted to put together something,” Gourdine said.
Despite having strong opinions on the statue of Edwards, Our Edwardsville does not want the statue completely destroyed. According to Spells, this is because the group does not want to erase history, but explain it.
“A lot of times, when we look at racial issues, we kind of see it as this divide, us versus them. But it should be everyone in it for everyone else,” Spells said. “So, by not destroying the statue, but having it moved to an educational location, we can preserve the history that some people are worried about, and add the context that’s missing from a lot of historical elements in our daily lives.”
One of the many SIUE community members in attendance at the protest was Assistant Professor of Philosophy Susan Dieleman. Dieleman and her husband, Jason Breen, recently moved to Edwardsville from Canada, and she said they were both happy to see a movement like Our Edwardsville in their new home.
“This is a cause that’s near and dear to my heart, and as new residents of Edwardsville, it was nice to see an opportunity in our community to contribute to the kind of Edwardsville that I know I would like to see and actually live in,” Dieleman said.
Breen said he and Dieleman fought for similar causes in Canada, and they were happy to keep protesting in the U.S. According to Breen, a big issue is that statues are sometimes seen as authorities on history.
“Coming from Canada, we supported aboriginal rights there, and it’s great to see that fight continue here, where I don’t think it’s as large a part of the mainstream conversation as it would be north of the U.S. border,” Breen said. “I think it helps to distinguish between monuments and history as two distinct things, and how not all historical figures deserve to be monumentalized.”
According to Denkyirah, this protest has been coming for a long time. Denkyirah has been a leader in Our Edwardsville, and she said after several months of work, the city council seems to be finally responding to the group’s demands.
“There is an ordinance to rename the plaza, which is a great first step, and we believe that eventually there will be an ordinance to remove the statue, and relocate it to a place that can provide proper historical contextualization. They’re planning on creating some kind of committee. They want to add a lithograph, and a plaque, and we will be a part of this committee,” Denkyirah said. “I will possibly be in the committee representing our group, with another member as well. Other community members and other leaders, some from SIUE, have been asked to join the committee as well.”
Denkyirah said Our Edwardsville is happy to help prepare the lithograph or plaque, but she also said this is not all that Our Edwardsville wants.
“We will be helping in terms of writing the lithograph, but we don’t believe that is our main goal that we want. Our main goal is still relocation, but we’re hopeful that being part of the committee will at least provide some support for that push for change,” Denkyirah said. “The city council has been quoted saying they want unity, and the lithograph and plaque will provide that, but we believe that the statue in and of itself, in its place does not provide unity, so that’s where we are now.”
For more information, visit the Our Edwardsville Facebook page. The Alestle will continue to follow this story as it develops.