Removing monuments, names, and other commemorations of problematic historical figures has been a source of debate. But what if one of them was in your own home?
When I earned my Eagle Scout, my dad gave me an autograph of Lord Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of Boy Scouts. A friend of my dad who ran a memorabilia shop in La Costa, California put it together. It included his authenticated signature and a photograph, framed with an old Army blanket and one of the original Boy Scouts neckerchiefs.
I imagined that this gift cost my dad a lot of money. But more than the value and historical significance, it was the thoughtfulness and consideration he gave in choosing it. At a time when my relationship with him was still fragile after he left my mom, it meant a lot to me that he got such a special gift for my important achievement.
My Baden-Powell plaque hung wherever I lived. It went with me when I moved to Orange County, and it hung in my office in our home. Or it did until earlier this week.
I read a CNN report that the Baden-Powell statue is being removed from its place in Dorsey, England. I suspected that Baden-Powell would be problematic as many figures from British imperialism would be, but I was puzzled at first by the decision. He was credited for helping Jewish refugees flee Nazi Germany and was targeted by Hitler if Germany successfully invaded Britain. However, biographer Tim Jeal said Baden-Powell showed “implicit support, through naïveté, of fascism,” and that Baden-Powell praised Mein Kampf as “A wonderful book, with good ideas on education, health, propaganda, organisation etc.” This is in addition to his militarist, racist, and homophobic views, which might have been the norm at the time, but are unacceptable today.
That’s why I decided to take my dad’s gift off the wall and put it away.
Frankly, I hadn’t thought much about Lord Baden-Powell for years. His framed autograph just hung on my wall and became just another thing to be dusted. Now that I took it down, it frees space for other things. I have room to hang more family pictures or for plaques for future awards.
That’s something we forget about problematic monuments. They take up space we can use for other things—for better things. Instead of some large statue of some Confederate general, you can put up a playground. Instead of naming a university building after a slavery advocate, you can have it honor a graduate who made significant contributions to the world. Old buildings and structures are torn down all the time. They may have held special memories or have significance, but they became obsolete, fell into dangerous disrepair, or took up space needed for more important things. The history can be remembered, but time goes on. We can’t cling on to the past when it keeps us from moving ahead.
Lord Robert Baden-Powell is a part of my past and the world’s past. But he’s not who we are today. By putting his plaque away, I can keep the memory of what my dad did for me while freeing space for the future. By removing monuments to problematic people and the detestable values they stood for, we are freeing space for a better society.