Two Capitol building statues were restored last month after being dismantled for a year following a June 2020 protest initially provoked by the arrest of a Madison activist.
Late September, Wisconsin’s Department of Administration restored the“Forward,” and Col. Hans Christian Heg statues that had been dismantled during a Black Lives Matter protest last year, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
On June 23, 2020, “Forward” and Col. Hans Christian Heg were toppled from their positions around the Capital. “Forward” laid on her back, and Col. Heg decapitated.
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According to an email statement from the Wisconsin Department of Administration, the restoration process involved repairing the damaged statues. Restorers replaced Hans Christian Heg’s head and “Forward’s” fingers, which were recreated by taking molds and casting new bronze pieces to be welded to the statues.
Heg was a Norwegian immigrant who served as Wisconsin’s state Prison Commissioner, as well as during the Civil War, according to the Wisconsin Historical Society.
The toppled “Forward” statue is a replica of a bronze casting completed in 1893 and premiered at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago as a representation of Wisconsin’s forward-thinking nature, according to the Wisconsin Historical Society.
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One practice that became associated with the Black Lives Matter movement following the murder of George Floyd was the dismantling, toppling, or tearing down of figures historically associated with oppression and violence against ethnic and racial minorities, according to the New York Times.
Activist and 2021 Wisconsin State Senate candidate Nada Elmikashfi said in a text statement that, while removing statues is not enough to dismantle the white supremacy embedded in American institutions, it plays a crucial role in getting people to question them.
“We are fighting ghosts of incredible racial violence that has been done to black bodies, a violence law enforcement has been happy to continue,” Elmikashfi said. “In the most segregated state in the country, what then does the sentiment of “Forward” really mean for Black Wisconsinites?”
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Elmikashfi said fellow Wisconsinites should continue asking the important questions the practice of dismantling statues evokes: how is the racist past of America connected to its present?
UW Madison Professor Walter Stern, author of Race and Education in New Orleans: Creating the Segregated City, 1764-1960 said that what the “Forward” statue celebrates is the “forward” movement of white settlers at the cost of Indigenous and Black lives.
“Throughout [Wisconsin’s] history, the ‘progress’ that some people achieved often came at a cost to others; in my mind, the toppling of the “Forward” statue asked Wisconsinites to consider this uncomfortable history,” Stern said in an email statement.
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Stern said that “Forward” has been refashioned into a symbol for various causes including womens’ and workers’ rights and that Wisconsinites can do it once again, working to understand the complexities and tragedies of their own history.
In August of 2020, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers requested $150,000 in federal funding to aid in the statue restoration effort. In addition, a majority of the funds – a proposed $100,000 – would go towards the creation of a monument to Vel Phillips, the first African American woman to become a judge in Wisconsin, according to AP News.
“I look forward to not only to getting Col. Heg and ‘Forward’ back up on their feet at the Capitol, but also exploring new options to make the Capitol grounds a more accurate reflection of our state’s diversity and history,” Evers said in a statement with WMTV.