PITTSBURGH - The statue of a musical icon in Oakland is drawing new attention as concerns about the origins and messages of Civil War-era monuments heighten across the U.S.
Built in 1900, the statue of songwriter Stephen Collins Foster shows the Lawrenceville native standing above a slave figure strumming a banjo. The banjo player, “Uncle Ned,” is a character in one of Foster’s songs.
Mayor Bill Peduto ordered a study of the statue several weeks ago, following complaints from the community.
“I've asked the art commission to work with historical and others to come up with a reasonable approach of what this statue represents and then make a judgment at that point,” Peduto said.
Peduto also said the report from the committee, made up of representatives from stakeholder groups, “will be based on fact” and that public input will also be solicited.
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“I can certainly see why it needs some reviewing. I can't imagine it being put up today in the form it's in now,” Adam Asher, who was visiting Pittsburgh from New York, said.
The statue, which originally was placed in Highland Park, now sits on Forbes Avenue near the University of Pittsburgh’s campus.
Shadyside resident Rachel Stachelrout is torn about what should be done with the statue, but said she’s glad it’s being discussed.
“The way that it's positioned right now, it's certainly glorifying the relationship between these two figures, which certainly isn't something I endorse,” Stachelrout said.
It’s unclear when a decision on the statue’s future will be made, but Peduto said there are several options on the table.
“It's not between leaving it as it is and melting it down into whatever. There's a lot of different options that can be looked at, and it's not the first time we've looked at this,” Peduto said.
Foster, who died in 1864, is considered a forefather of American popular music, composing songs such as “Oh! Susanna” and “Camptown Races.”
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