They may look serious and silent, but the many commemorative memorials and monuments throughout DC have vibrant stories to tell. As time goes on, they stand resolute and watch as residents and visitors to the nation’s capital pass by them with a glance. Sometimes, they might catch someone’s attention as they ponder their likeness. Who are they
Why do they have a statue in DC
What did they contribute to history
While they can’t give an explanation themselves, this tour gives insight that they cannot provide.
This Commemorative Memorials and Monuments tour might seem self-explanatory, but the sites on this tour were curated with certain parameters in mind. First, the monuments chosen here focus on individuals that weren’t directly involved in war - the Civil War monuments and American Revolution statuary already address these (these sites will be listed at the bottom of this tour route for reference). For this same reason, this tour does not include war-themed monuments or memorials. Instead, it focuses on monuments and memorials that center on people who contributed to history in other areas. From social, political, and religious leaders to inventors and pioneers in their fields, including medicine, communications, and education, the people featured in this tour helped to contribute to local or national history through their work and ideas.
This tour includes many sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but also some that are not. According to National Register criteria for a commemorative property, there are multiple factors to consider: duration of time the property has existed, design, continued usage for symbolic purposes, and more. Because of this, designating a commemorative site can be more difficult to achieve, resulting in some of the sites featured on this tour not being listed on the National Register. This tour features both designated and non-designated sites because they commemorate an individual that has contributed to history, with the design elements and person’s significance also in mind. This tour is also not all-inclusive; many other commemorative sites exist outside of this tour and in many different forms. This tour is meant to point out some of the city’s many monuments, and remind visitors to look for others.
With that being said, it is important to provide a disclaimer: not every person referenced in this tour is universally praised or considered a positive contributor to history depending on one’s identity, culture, or experience within the United States. Some of the individuals commemorated have been reexamined due to their negative contributions which have furthered racism and social injustice. DCPL’s “Statement on Monuments” stands with the decisions made to reevaluate monuments commemorating figures that oppressed others and caused harm. Certain historically designated monuments may not exist in the future for these reasons, but for now are present on this tour to provide transparency in who they were and how they contributed to American history.
For more information on commemorative monuments and memorials both in DC and across the country, Monument Lab has done extensive work on documentation, analysis, and critical thinking on who, why, and how these statues are presented in public spaces within the United States.
This tour can be completed by walking, public transport, and/or car. Since the landmarks are spread out, it is advised that you map out your route to determine distance before beginning.
DCPL'S "Statement on Monuments": https://dcpreservation.org/current_issues/dcpl-statement-on-monuments/
Monument Lab website: https://monumentlab.com/