Showing posts with label Ulysses S. Grant. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ulysses S. Grant. Show all posts

Monday, November 16, 2020

Grant group investigates curious reappearance of US President in Guinea-Bissau island 'ghost town'

From GMA newsletter, vol. XVI, no. 1, fall 2020, at 4, my photo at right.
Earlier this year, I wrote about the short, strange life of statues in Guinea-Bissau, and, in particular, the strange-upon-strange birth, disappearance, and re-creation of a statue of U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant in an abandoned park in the "ghost town" of Bolama Island.

In March, I reported that, since going missing mysteriously in 2007, the Grant statue "was recovered in pieces, and authorities ultimately restored him."

Not quite so.

Grant Monument Association (GMA) President Frank J. Scaturro (Twitter), by day an attorney and historian who is vice-president and senior counsel at the Judicial Crisis Network, noticed that my March photo of the statue did not look like the original.

Your intrepid blogger visits the cane rum distillery in Quinhámel,
Guinea-Bissau, in March. (RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Scaturro and the GMA dug into the mystery of the statue's reappearance in the middle of the barren park that was once Guinea-Bissau's glorious "Praça Ulysses S. Grant."  (As to why there is a monument to a U.S. President at all on this West African island, see my March post.)  The pieces of the original statue never have been recovered.

A March 2018 photo shows a still empty pedestal.
(Helena Maria Pestana CC BY-SA 4.0)
The latest GMA newsletter (vol. XVI, no. 1, fall 2020) explains how the present likeness of Grant came to be in 2018:

This occurred at the initiative of then-Governor Quintino Rodrigues Bone. Approximately 100,000 CFA francs (roughly U.S. $180) were spent from the local government fund to obtain supplies for the work—a harness, cement, gravel, and colorless paint. With these materials, a local artist, Luizinho (Zinho) Ká, constructed a cement statue. He did not receive any compensation for his work.

....

According to the State Department, there is local interest in replacing the cement statue with a new bronze replica of the destroyed statue, but no funding to do so.

My dispatch from Guinea-Bissau came just before the cancel-culture toppling of monuments across the United States.  Sadly, the fall 2020 GMA newsletter also reported the vandalism and toppling of a Grant bust in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park in June.

Scaturro said, "It is ironic that a monument to Grant was restored in Guinea-Bissau soon before another was torn down in San Francisco. Americans who do not respect our heritage can learn a lesson from the people of Guinea-Bissau."

Anyone can join the New York-based Grant Monument Association or visit the General Grant National Memorial in New York (check for covid updates).  Scaturro wrote in a statement on Grant's civil rights record:

As the principal author of Union victory during the Civil War, Grant was the principal enforcer of the Emancipation Proclamation.  As president, he secured laws that enforced the recently ratified 13th and 14th Amendments and acted decisively to ensure the ratification of a 15th Amendment that would ban racial discrimination in voting. His achievements included five enforcement acts, the creation of the Justice Department, and the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which desegregated various modes of public accommodations and transportation. Grant repeatedly employed military intervention to enforce Reconstruction and crushed the 19th-century Ku Klux Klan. Among America’s top leaders, from military commanders to presidents, none has a more sweeping record on civil rights.

The GMA hosts periodic programs of interest to the public and historians.  On November 19, at 7 p.m. US EST, the GMA will host an online colloquy, "A discussion of the partnership between General Ulysses S. Grant & General William T. Sherman," featuring General David Petraeus and Ulysses S. Grant Association Executive Director John Marszalek.  GMA members receive registration information.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

US President haunts African 'ghost capital'

Main traffic circle in Canchungo, Guinea-Bissau.
All photos RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-SA 4.0.

Throughout Guinea-Bissau, in West Africa, characteristic landmarks found in town centers, parks, and traffic circles are large, dilapidated blocks of painted concrete, often graffitied. These blocks are actually bases that have held statues of prominent leaders during the country's tumultuous history since independence was declared in 1973.

For Guinea-Bissau, it's been a journey as rocky and potholed as the nation's roads. Independence from Portugal was hard fought, with the Soviet Union, Cuba, and China pouring in arms for the revolutionaries to the end of establishing a communist foothold in West Africa. Anti-revolutionary soldiers were mass murdered after their defeat. Subsequent instability and corruption led to civil war in the 1990s, and election turmoil and political violence marked the 20-aughts. The presidential election in 2019 was contested, and just this week, since inauguration of the ultimately recognized victor, there are reports of military intimidation of the courts. No wonder statues don't last long in poor Guinea-Bissau.

That makes one statue still standing all the more an oddity. In an overgrown park in the heart of the main town on Bolama Island, in the Bijagos Archipelago, at the center of low walls of crumbling concrete that once demarcated colorful stars, the likeness of 18th U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant rises defiantly.

The Grant statue is a curious throwback to Portuguese colonial rule. Actually, all of Bolama Town is a throwback to colonialism. Once grand Portuguese constructions crumble in slow decay in what's sometimes called Guinea-Bissau's "ghost capital." European powers such as Portugal favored locating their colonial bases of operations on offshore islands, where winds kept malarial mosquitoes at bay. Today the ghost capital is inhabited, despite its state; thousands of people live in subsistence, and sometimes dependent, conditions amid the ruins.

In the 1860s, President Grant became the mutually agreed upon arbitrator between Portugal and Great Britain over territory in the islands. After Grant awarded Bolama to Portugal in 1870, the Portuguese erected the statue to honor him. Notwithstanding the resolution of that dispute, and despite British efforts to aid the Confederacy and topple the Union in the Civil War, Grant was ultimately credited with strengthening U.S. relations with Britain during his two terms as President in the Reconstruction era. Grant proved so popular abroad that he and his wife embarked on a world tour after his presidency, and, with the imprimatur of President Rutherford B. Hayes, Grant inaugurated the custom of former presidents conducting informal diplomacy abroad.

The tale of Grant's Bolama ghost gained an unusual epilog in 2007, when the statue went missing. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reported the story for NPR. Apparently stolen to sell as scrap metal, Grant was recovered in pieces, and authorities ultimately restored him--not how things usually work out for statues in Guinea-Bissau.

Ruins of Portuguese palace in Bolama Town

Abandoned cinema in Bolama Town


A storefront in Bolama Town painted for politics

Kids swinging in a refurbished Bolama Town park