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History gets complicated for New York City

The Christopher Columbus statue at Manhattan's Columbus Circle

The Christopher Columbus statue at Manhattan's Columbus Circle is seen from inside the Time Warner Center in Aug. 27, 2017. Credit: AP / Bebeto Matthews

There will be no monumental changes in New York City after Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “monuments commission” came back with its recommendations last week.

That review had its origins in the August white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the removal of a Confederate memorial. De Blasio subsequently called for a monuments review in NYC. In the end, the evaluators soberly suggested leaving controversial markers like those to Christopher Columbus where they were.

In other instances, including the statute of Theodore Roosevelt on a horse outside the American Museum of Natural History, new signage will provide context to explain that statue’s depiction of Roosevelt alongside indigenous and black men. That is the best impulse. History is complicated, and the more light we can shed on the past, the better for us in the present. But erasing the trajectory of our enlightenment, with our sins and stumbles, paves the road to repetition.

Our interpretation of history always has been a battleground for current grievances. We must learn from the past and settle those grievances — it’s our only way forward. The future must be better. The statues remind us when it was and when it wasn’t.

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