CHICAGO - A statue of Abraham Lincoln in Lincoln Park was vandalized Monday with graffiti calling the former president a "colonizer."
The vandalism occurred about 12:30 p.m., according to Chicago police. Red paint was poured over the statue and "Dethrone the Colonizers," "Land Back!" and "Avenge the Dakota 38" were spray-painted at its base. No one is in custody.
In a statement, the anonymous group who claimed credit for the vandalism said they wanted to memorialize Indigenous Peoples Day by calling attention to the public execution of 38 Dakota men during the U.S.-Dakota war of 1862. Lincoln signed the order of execution. The anonymous group refers to itself as "resistors of colonial violence."
Slips of paper with the names of the 38 men who were executed were attached to the base of the Lincoln statue.
The group sought "to tear down the myth of Lincoln as great liberator and expose his complicity in the genocide of Indigenous peoples and theft of their lands," according to the statement.
"Lincoln chose to execute the Dakota 38 to cater to white settler communities’ demands for racist violence," the statement said.
Joggers, dog walkers and people enjoying the park Monday afternoon stopped to take pictures of the statue. Some wondered who was responsible. A child asked her guardian, "Who did this?" and exclaimed, "That is so rude," as they walked by.
The "Standing Lincoln" statue by noted sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens was installed in 1887 in honor of the 16th president, who though born in Kentucky moved to Illinois as a young man and lived there until he became president in 1861. It was among those under review by the Chicago Monuments Project, which aimed to scrutinize statues and public art in the city to determine which were offensive, problematic or did not present an equitable view of history.
The committee did not recommend the removal of the Lincoln statue in its final report. It instead suggested its accompanying plaque be revised in order to add broader historical context. The current plaque describes the architectural importance of the monument.
"This monument to America’s sixteenth president influenced a generation of sculptors," it reads.
The statue is one of the oldest public sculptures in Chicago. Lincoln stands in front of an enormous chair in "a thoughtful stance as though he is about to deliver a speech," according to the Chicago Park District website. There are replicas in London and Mexico City.
A "brain trust" of community leaders, artists, architects, scholars, curators and city officials made up the monuments committee that reviewed the Lincoln statue. The group also reviewed statues of three other former U.S. presidents: George Washington, Ulysses S. Grant and William McKinley.
In its final report, the committee recommended the George Washington and William McKinley monument sites for permanent and or ongoing "artistic prioritized interventions." The group acknowledged the works were significant but didn’t tackle the "challenging legacies of their subjects."
The city created the monuments project in 2020 after the removal of three Christopher Columbus statues, which were plucked from their locations after violent clashes between police and protesters who were trying to topple the monuments. A statue of McKinley was also vandalized that year.
This year the commission recommended the city permanently remove the Columbus statues, saying "the image of Columbus has become a bitter reminder of centuries of exploitation, conquest and genocide."
The committee reviewed more than 500 city monuments and recommended that 41 of them either be removed, moved, replaced or altered to provide more context.
Cities across the country have reckoned with historical symbols and monuments in recent years in response to protests against racism and institutional oppression.
Last year, the San Francisco school board decided to rename 44 of its public schools, including Abraham Lincoln High School.
Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser created a committee in 2020 to strip names off schools, parks and public buildings honoring those who enslaved Black people.
Chicago Public Schools also vowed to rename 30 schools named for enslavers that year.