On Friday, protesters in San Francisco, California tore down a statue of former U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant in Golden Gate Park. Grant was the 18th president of the United States, as well as the leader of the Union forces during the Civil War. According to a report by NBC Bay Area, no arrests were made in connection with the vandalism.
About 400 people were gathered in Golden Gate Park on Friday night when Grant's statue was torn down, along with statues of St. Junipero Serra and Francis Scott Key. Key wrote the lyrics to "The Star-Spangled Banner," while St. Junipero Serra was a Spanish missionary believed to have committed heinous atrocities on the Native American people in the San Francisco area. As for Grant, news pundits and social media users debated whether his statue deserved to be torn down following the demonstrations, with many pointing out that he was a slave owner.
Grant has been celebrated over the years as a key figure in ending American slavery since he helped the Union win the Civil War. However, according to historian Sean Kane, Grant owned a slave from 1859 right up until the beginning of the Civil War, when he promptly freed the man. Grant also reportedly married into a slaveholding family, which owned dozens of slaves.
"My inclination is to whip the rebellion into submission, preserving all Constitutional rights," Grant wrote to his father during the Civil War. "If it cannot be whipped any other way than through a war against slavery, let it come to that legitimately. If it is necessary that slavery should fall that the Republic may continue its existence, let slavery go."
Still, Grant's anti-slavery record carried on into his presidency, which he started by going after the Ku Klux Klan. He created the Department of Justice in part to prosecute the organization, while at the same time appointing Black Americans and Jewish-Americans to prominent federal offices. Grant also created the Civil Service Commission, generally earning him a place in history as a symbol of national unity. "People going after Grant probably just want to break things," concluded journalist Adam Serwer in a tweet on Saturday.
In recent weeks, protesters around the country have torn down statues — typically targeting Confederate monuments and likenesses of Confederate leaders. Around the world, other protesters have done the same, defacing or destroying statues of known slave-traders or general racists. Many have faced legal consequences for these actions.