Michael Winkler: The McKinley statue is a needed reminder of moral failure and success

want to explain why I as a member of the Arcata City Council have consistently supported the right of Arcata citizens to directly vote on the McKinley statue and why I support Measure M to keep our statue on the Arcata Plaza.

The McKinley statue and President McKinley himself are in many ways the direct opposite of the Confederate statues being taken down throughout the South.

McKinley was a strong abolitionist and specifically enlisted in the Union Army in the Civil War to free black Americans from slavery and to save our country.

Throughout his life and as President of the United States, McKinley actively supported the rights of black Americans at a time when black Americans were being systematically deprived of those rights.

In his time, McKinley was an effective and popular president. His murder shocked the nation. In the wake of his assassination, citizens in Arcata and in many other cities erected statues in his honor.

I see two basic ways of viewing the McKinley statue.

The first is to see the statue purely as a symbol, a symbol of all the harms done to Native Americans and other people of color.

The second is to see William McKinley as an individual. McKinley is in a number of ways similar to Abraham Lincoln and the early days of the Republican Party.

Both fought to free black Americans from slavery and preserve the Union. Both supported the long-term economic development of the United States. Both had children who died young and cared for wives who suffered from grief and depression.

For their times, both had progressives views of black Americans and other people of color, but both also held views that would not be acceptable in the 21st Century.

As president, both deeply cared about how their policies would affect ordinary people and tried to foster reconciliation. Both were assassinated by angry individuals who saw them as tyrants.

In recent years, the statue has been an object of fun with McKinley as King Neptune at the Oyster Festival, as the Wizard at the Fairy Festival and, most recently, dressed up at the North Country Fair.

For more than 100 years the McKinley statue has stood as the centerpiece of the Arcata Plaza. Removing and replacing the statue would be a large and unnecessary expenditure of our scarce taxpayer dollars that could be better spent meeting current needs.

I urge you to “Vote Yes on M!” and “Keep Our Statue!”

Michael Winkler is an Arcata City Councilmember and Measure M petitioner.


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