Next Up to Tear Down: Stephen Foster

Next Up to Tear Down: Stephen Foster
(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Stephen Foster was America’s first great songwriter and until about five minutes ago his songs were part of the cultural heritage of every Real American. But because some of their lyrics refer to “darkies” and are written in black dialect (common, by the way, in songs written by both black and white Americans throughout the late 19th century and well into the Tin Pan Alley days), they must go onto the ash heap of history — along, of course, with any statues of the man:

Among the more two dozen people who spoke Wednesday evening before the city’s Art Commission Wednesday, most wanted the Stephen Foster statue along the Oakland stretch of Forbes Avenue to be taken down or moved somewhere less visible. But few speakers were as hostile as Billy Hileman.

“You should melt the metal part down and recoup a little bit of [money],” said the educator and veteran activist during the hour-long hearing. “And then maybe make gravel out of the pedestal.” That drew laughter from a crowd of more than 60, but Mr. Hileman choked up moments later. “Obviously I can’t speak for people of color,” said Mr. Hileman, who is white, “but I can speak for me. I’m tired of being a part of this.”

What a fatuous ninny. Almost half a century ago, when I was a young music critic in Rochester, N.Y., I predicted in print that someday radicals would want to dig up the corpses of the politically incorrect dead (we didn’t use that term then, but the sentiment was already around) and hang them. Tearing down their statues and erasing them from history is the next best thing.

More than anybody else, Foster put a distinctively American music on the map; his songs had great appeal not for any inherent “racism” (blacks are always treated sympathetically) but because they captured the beauty and spirit of the still-young country. Here, for example, is his setting of a scene from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet — the common man at that time loved Shakespeare and could quote him, and the King James Bible, by heart — a duet called, “Wilt Thou Be Gone, Love?”

And here is the ineffable “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair,” as sung by John McCormack, along with Caruso, the greatest tenor of his day:

Finally, no Foster primer would be complete without one of his last songs — he died in 1864 at the age of 37 — the immortal “Beautiful Dreamer.”

Tear those down, you fascists. Meanwhile the destructive work of the Frankfurt School continues apace:

Yesica Guerra, the city’s public art and civic design manager, said that nearly half of 126 written comments sent to the commission favored either relocating or removing the statue. Only a quarter favored leaving it where it is. Other options include providing signage to contextualize the work.

It was surprising so many people were in favor of removing the statue,” said Brittany Felder, an African American woman. She and other law students at the University of Pittsburgh had talked among themselves about their concerns, she said, but “I don’t think we had a chance to gauge [public sentiment] before.”

“Public sentiment that has spoken the loudest and the most has been on the removal of the statue from a public location,” Mr. Peduto said earlier in the day.

Is this the country you want to live in, Real Americans?




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