Public outcry for relocation of statue erupts, racist past cited

This statue of Ninian Edwards, Edwardsville’s namesake, stands at the corner of St. Louis and West Vandalia streets. City residents have been calling for the statue to be removed due to Edwards' role in promoting slavery in Illinois.

Statues of historical figures with problematic histories are being taken down in the U.S. and internationally, and this movement has now reached Edwardsville.

One of these historical figures who has come under investigation is the namesake of Edwardsville, Ninian Edwards. Edwards was one of the first governors of Illinois, which is why the city was named for him, and is also why he has a statue. However, some research reveals Edwards owned slaves and defended slavery, despite living in Illinois, where slavery was illegal. He had brought the slaves from his home in Kentucky, and refused to free them in Illinois, even though Illinois was a free state. While in office as governor, Edwards also suggested the eradication of Native Americans from Illinois, according to the National Governors Association.

On June 17, a Facebook group was created, and it gained over 500 members in less than 24 hours. According to the group’s action statement, its three main purposes are to remove the statue of Edwards from the plaza, put the statue in a less public place where information on his history of mistreatment of Black and Indigenous people can be displayed and to rename the Ninian Edwards Plaza.

Andrew Carr was raised in Edwardsville but now lives in Chicago. He is a member of the group and said he initially didn’t fully know Edward’s history, but now that he does, he wants the statue removed.

“I didn’t know Ninian Edwards’ full history, but that really goes to show that there are many terrible things in our past that are not well known,” Carr said. “I definitely think the statue should be taken down, and as a person of color, I feel as though my opinion matters more on this topic. If it were a statue of a misogynist, and women were asking for it to be removed, but then men were defending the statue, it would not be good optics.”

Kirk Schlueter, of Edwardsville, is one of the administrators of the group. Schlueter said he was unaware of Edwards’ history, but he was very upset when he discovered it and wanted to take action immediately.

“I’ve been a lifelong resident of Edwardsville. In fact, most of the group probably is. I had no idea that the namesake of the town had taken concrete steps to protect slavery in Illinois,” Schlueter said. “When I discovered [Edwards’ history], I reached out to people I knew that either didn’t know, or who already knew and were upset by it. We all agreed that we wanted the statue removed and the plaza renamed.”

Lauren Mudge, of Edwardsville, is also an administrator of the group, and she said she has been organizing protests in the area for different causes. Mudge also said if they can get the statue of Edwards relocated, there are other steps the group could take to support the movement.

“We want to move the statue to somewhere more appropriate, like maybe use it more for education,” Mudge said. “The renaming of the square is our next topic because we don’t want to bite off more than we can chew. We’ve been actively contacting the city council and the aldermen, then they would bring that to the mayor. I anticipate it being an uphill battle.”

Emma Lipe, another administrator, from Glen Carbon, Illinois, said she agreed the relocation of the statue should only be the first action of the group.

“Personally, I think [moving the statue] is important, but it should just be the tip of the iceberg,” Lipe said. “I understand that, when compared to systemic things, the statue doesn’t mean much, but it would be symbolic, and we would definitely not stop there.”

Schlueter said although the removal of the statue is important, he wants the rest of the group to be aware of systemic racism as a larger issue.

“Right now, we want this to be supplemental for a larger movement for Black Lives Matter. We don’t want to take away attention from police brutality. Both are problems,” Schlueter said. “We’ve been encouraging members to work against police brutality as well. For the statue itself, we’ve been lobbying Edwardsville City Council to remove the statue. We’re not advocating destruction. We don’t want people to go in with sledgehammers and smash it, regardless of if they’re protesters or people from the city.”

Carr said he feels using the statue as a starting point is the best course of action.

“All these political movements are trying to collect momentum, so that by starting with something relatively small, like a statue, systemic changes can be made,” Carr said. “Moving that statue is not a full fix, but the idea to get to that full fix is there.”

According to Schlueter, the statue harms Black and Indigenous people and tarnishes Edwardsville’s image.

“We are asking for the statue to be put in a museum, or a less public area, with info about the harmful actions [Edwards] took. That way, it seems like we are not honoring him,” Schlueter said. “We believe Edwardsville is more than Ninian Edwards. We want Edwardsville to stop putting his face forward as the face of the city.”

The group released their formal action statement on June 22.

The Alestle will continue to follow this story as it progresses. For more information, check the group's Facebook page.

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