During the early days of unrest in Philadelphia stemming from the death of George Floyd, a statue of outspoken abolitionist Matthias Baldwin outside City Hall was defaced with the messages “colonizer” and “murderer.”
Nearly two weeks later, photos of the statue have gone viral online, causing some to think the vandalism occurred during peaceful protests in the city on Thursday. Fox News even aired a breaking news report about the graffiti Thursday.
- Philly voters may get a chance to weigh in on stop-and-frisk; no curfew planned for Saturday protests
- Amid pain and powerful protests, Philadelphia still found a way to be Philly. Here are 10 of those moments.
- Philly police scaled back a plan for the George Floyd protests. The impact was devastating.
The origin of the photos that have spread online are unknown. According to the city, the statue and others that were defaced during the weekend of May 30 — including a statue of former Philadelphia mayor Frank Rizzo that was subsequently removed — were immediately cleaned.
“We can confirm that the statue of Matthias Baldwin, along with other statues in the area of Philadelphia’s City Hall, was tagged with paint and graffiti at some point during the first days of protests that took place in Philadelphia,” a spokesperson for Mayor Jim Kenney’s office said. “There has been no subsequent vandalism of the Baldwin statue in recent days. So, while the Baldwin statue was in fact defaced, it did not take place yesterday as the tweet and accompanying image claim.”
Baldwin, who created one of the largest a locomotive manufacturing firms of his time, was an outspoken critic against slavery during the early 1800s, arguing for the right of African Americans to vote and founding a school in the city for black children. Baldwin’s statue was erected in 1906, and placed in its current spot outside City Hall in 1936.
Jim Fennell, the president of the volunteer group Friends of Matthias Baldwin Park, said he was upset when he saw the images circulating online, particularly one photo that showed an unidentified protester appearing to whip the statue.
“He was not the man to whip, because he was ahead of his time,” Fennell said.
Despite the initial damage, Fennel said the incident has had the unintended effect of causing people to seek out knowledge about Baldwin and why the city erected a statue in his honor.
“It seems like people are suddenly looking at him and finding out he was an abolitionist and did all sorts of things to support African Americans, including integrating his work force,” Fennell said.