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City To Replace Foster Memorial With Statue Honoring African-American Woman

The controversial Stephen Foster Memorial, which many have described as racist, is scheduled to be removed from Schenley Plaza in Oakland next month. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and his Task Force on Women in Public Art want to fill that vacated space with a statue honoring an African American Pittsburgh woman.

“Of all the sculptures and statues throughout the entire city of Pittsburgh, there is not one that recognizes an African-American woman, not one in the entire city,” Peduto said.

In October, the Pittsburgh Arts Commission unanimously recommended removing the Foster statue to a private “properly contextualized location.”

The debate over the Foster memorial bubbled up again last fall as part of a national discussion over memorials on public land to figures of historical significance but who were also connected to slavery or racism.

“If we are going to be a city that is diverse, it's not only through the population but it's also through the heroes that we celebrate,” Peduto said.

The city is to hold community meetings and has launched an online forum to nominate individuals to be honored with the planned statue.

The mayor said he will not be the one choosing the honoree. 

“My history of historic African-American women does not go deep enough…to clearly state there is one person who rises above the rest," Peduto said. "I am looking at this as an opportunity to learn.”

Peduto said, the statue of an African-American woman is not intended to be a message to those who might question the city’s diversity.

“With some outside the city, it may be viewed with a different lens,” but according to the mayor this can be a “remedy” to what has been missing.

“There is a long and proud history in the city of the contributions that individuals have made, and there [will be] one place you can go to recognize a woman from that community that has been recognized in  the way they should," Peduto said. 

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm