Petition Urges City To Move Stephen Foster Statue

Aug 29, 2017

An online petition to remove a controversial statue of one of Pittsburgh's native sons in Oakland has gathered more than 1,000 signatures.

The statue, located in Schenley Plaza, depicts a barefoot black slave in tattered clothes playing a banjo beneath the immaculately dressed composer, Stephen Foster, who holds a parchment.

“I don’t know Stephen Foster’s artistic process," said Edgewood resident Robert Jackson, 34, who initiated the petition. "I’m hoping it didn’t involve plagiarizing slaves. That’s exactly what looks like is happening to me. He’s writing down the music that a person is playing.” 

As a descendant of slaves, Jackson said he finds the depiction of the black man to be an offensive caricature.

He’s also troubled by the way the statue is presented among flowers on a public walkway. He doesn't want to erase Foster's legacy, but move statue to a place where it can be put into historical context, rather than celebrated.

Others claim the statue does not depict cultural appropriation. Rather, Foster is being inspired by the man's music.

“Foster was no racist,” said University of Pittsburgh professor Laurence Glasco in an opinion letter to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He was one of the first whites to appreciate the power and quality of black music.”

Mayor Bill Peduto has said he, too, believes the statue should be moved. The city’s art commission will review the history of the statue and gather public input in the coming months, spokesman Tim McNulty said.

Renee Piechocki, director of the Office of Public Art, which is not a city department, said earlier this month that she'd support a process to re-home the work. Although the statue is city property and sits on city land, it's unclear who would make the final decision.

"What is placed on public property is an indication of what a place values," Piechocki said. "I don't believe Pittsburgh values causing people pain."

Photo via Piotrus/Wikimedia Commons