Like Sherman, I grew up in New York with a love for the statue that stood in front of the Natural History Museum. I don’t think I ever thought about it as clearly as he did, but I too felt an affection between the man on the horse and the two men on either side of him. I like Sherman’s notion of taking turns in the saddle. I guess it’s Teddy’s time to dismount.
by Sherman Yellen, New York, New York
Recently learned that Alexander Hamilton came from a family of slave owners and married into one as well. According to some historians, his mother owned and traded in slaves during his life on the islands. Surely not his fault, but it is part of his story. Does this discredit “Hamilton” or diminish it as theater? The theatricality of the work remains and yet, and yet—the knowledge is unsettling. It does not take away the original sin by having a multi-racial cast, nor does it diminish the artistry involved. And yet art, theater art, is not to be judged as history, although it cannot altogether run away from reality.
All men and women are imperfect and it is a question as to whether we (also imperfect) should focus on their failings rather than their virtues, or see them in all their complexity. I am grateful to the Black Lives Matter movement for making us alive to the complexity of some heroes—men who had values and ideals, and yet betrayed some of the most fundamental rights of human beings, trading in other humans, indifferent to their role in such cruelty.
Ever since my long-ago childhood, I have loved the statue of Teddy R on horseback in front of the Natural History Museum. I thought the Indian and the African were his friends—loving companions who took turns riding that horse—such is a child’s mind.
Now they plan to remove the offending statue because it stands as a symbol of white domination of native people. The world turns and we will be the better for it, but it will always exist in my boy’s heart. I will miss that statue that stood guard over the museum I have always loved. We will be a better people by telling the hard truths of the past—I, for one, can’t wait to see Andrew Jackson removed from money and honored memory having caused the “Trail of Tears” massacre of Native Americans, sent by him to their deaths out West. A few years ago, CBS commissioned me to write a mini-series about Jackson. When I refused to remove the horrors he committed against Native Americans in my script—although I also showed some of his personal value—the project was dropped.
Oh, how simple life and history were in my boyhood in the 1940″s. I wonder how much of the falsification of history led directly to the monster in the White House. When he made MAGA his motto, the America he wanted restored was one in which Jim Crow and the impoverishment of Native Americans was perpetuated.
Better days ahead—trust me on this. The more honesty we bring to the past and present, the better for those who follow us. And perhaps a bit more honesty in musical theatre—the tunes are fine; it is the libretto and the lyrics that need a new dose of reality. And, all you hip hop writers—spare us those false rhymes. But keep telling us the hard truths.