Appleton, with the inscription on the pedestal saying JOSEPH R McCARTHY/UNITED STATES SENATOR and the years of his birth and death. It stood in the lobby next to the staircase leading to the second floor.
I saw it several times, thinking nothing of it, when I was young; my mother worked for a lawyer in Appleton and occasionally had to drop off things at the courthouse, and sometimes I would be along with her. Other than the inscription ... and the feeling that some people had bad things to say about him ... I just went on my way. As I grew, read and learned more, I understood the feelings on both sides.
According to an article in the Appleton Post-Crescent by Madeline Behr,
County officials discussed in the 1980s whether to remove the bust, but those efforts stalled. It wasn't until 2001 that the McCarthy bust would finally be moved out of the courthouse and donated to the History Museum at the Castle for use in a McCarthy exhibit.It wasn't a perfect solution, but it worked. The controversial bust isn't where it was controversial any more; it was in a place devoted to studying the past and, among other things, McCarthy's role in it.
Plenty of assumptions were made about how the exhibit would frame McCarthy before it was complete, (museum director Matt) Carpenter said. Those within the Fox Cities thought the museum would paint McCarthy in a bad light, while those outside the Fox Cities assumed it would attempt to rehabilitate the image of a hometown boy."Our position wasn't either of those," Carpenter said. "We just said, 'Let's talk about what's important, what we can learn from this, and open up the conversation.'"After the exhibit opened, the reaction was largely positive, both from family and friends of McCarthy and detractors of McCarthy.The bust is now the most asked about item at the museum, Carpenter added, whether it is on display or not.
McCarthy was popular in his home state, Carpenter said, not for his politics but his personality.
Jerald Podair, a history professor at Lawrence University, told Behr that most folks just considered him "a hometown boy made good.
"Even though people understand him nationally as an embarrassment, he still is the local boy," Podair said. "If you knew him, you actually like him personally because he was perfect for this area — no pretense, no airs, no arrogance, friendly to everybody. But he also was a vicious political insider when it came to politics. But people here separate the personal from the political."So it can be done, and everyone can see what they want to see. And, yes, you know where this writing is going.
What happened to the bust of McCarthy is a good object lesson, and inevitably, a good model to follow. Don't tear down the statues, explain them in the context of what we know now. Note when the statues were put up, the conditions of race in those locations at the time, and how things changed.
Those white supremacists who protested the removal - and the Nazi sympathizers who followed in their wake like so much sludge - are wrong. Their cause was wrong.
But they are also part of our history, and pointing this out, with education and explanation, may be better than a teardown.
It's much better than tearing apart the country again.