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Persuasive Letter from Scholars to NYC Mayor

TempNew York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is under pressure to remove four statues that a group considers racist. More than 120 academics and artists signed a letter to persuade the mayor.

The letter assumes that two monuments "have no place on City property" and have "no defenders." They describe them as follows:

  • The Dr. J. Marion Sims statue in Central Park, commemorating a doctor who performed surgical experiments on enslaved African American women, including children, without anesthesia or consent. Momentum for its removal has spurred a remarkably broad coalition in support of the long-standing demand from Black and Latinx Harlemites that this affront be removed.
  • Historic markers of Vichy France’s Nazi collaborators, Philippe Pétain and Pierre Laval, are located in the Canyon of Heroes. Lest anyone need reminding, Vichy organized its own deportation to Auschwitz of over 70,000 Jewish French citizens.

The other two are more controversial, and the authors identify several arguments to support removing them. One is of Theodore Roosevelt, and the other is of Christopher Columbus.

In closing the letter, the group suggests alternatives:

In calling upon the Commission to recommend the removal of the aforementioned monuments, we also endorse any forward-looking post-removal initiative to advance understanding of these histories and make creative use of the vacated city property. These statues could be placed in dedicated museum spaces or memorial gardens, as has happened in Germany, India, South Africa and across Eastern Europe. The Roosevelt monument by James Earle Fraser could be profitably displayed alongside Fraser’s The End of the Trail in the Metropolitan Museum, for example, so that viewers could explore how race and eugenics were visualized in the period. The empty sites could be used as the subject for artistic competitions, as with London’s Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square. In short, we see the outcome of the Commission not as destroying heritage, let alone the purported erasure of history, but as the beginning of an exciting new set of possibilities for public art and museums in New York City, one finally devoted to an inclusive and reparative vision of the difficult histories of settler colonialism and the Indigenous peoples of this land.

Image source.

Discussion:

  • How would you describe the writing style in the letter? In what ways is it similar to and different from business writing?
  • How is the letter organized? How could the organization be improved?
  • Assess the argument for the two monuments in question. How do the authors use logical arguments, emotional appeals, and credibility? Which are their strongest and weakest arguments?