The Pin Oak vs. Statues of Dead White Men

Mike Hayman photo

Since the tragic weekend in Charlottesville, I have wondered why so few people have paid so little attention to trees. Much attention has been given to the argument about whether statues of Confederate soldiers should remain, be removed or re-located. A fallen tree here, another tree removed there. So what?

We at least were not burdened with statues of British generals.

Does anyone know of any American statues of British General Charles Cornwallis? Great Britain had its colonial supporters. Was there no desire to hearken back to the halcyon days of early British settlement in the New World?

An old oak tree was removed in Louisville a few weeks before the Charlottesville protests. It stood adjacent to St. Matthews Hardware. The small, independent hardware store was beloved, but the owner was ready to retire. The future odds were stacked in favor of big box stores for nuts and bolts. The property was sold. The store and the oak were taken down to make room for a bank.

The pin oak was somewhere between 75 and 100 years old. It looks older, but pin oaks are fast growers. A lot of pin oaks in Louisville were in decline, due to stress and disease, but this one had the makings of a survivor. Strong, resilient and adaptable to passing traffic spewing toxins into the Ohio Valley.

Louisville needs more trees, not fewer. It’s hard to plant them fast enough. The city has small cadres of tree activists, city employees and committed non-profits—plus nursery folks, neighborhood associations, developers and homeowners—who plant an estimated 10,000 trees a year. Their work is noble and good.

The effort puts a small dent in the overall need. (The city is losing an estimated 50,000 trees per year.) Tree planting goes unnoticed. There is little fanfare for trees or sorrow when they are lost. Louisville’s mayor could change that direction, but it’s a hard sell. Trees offer little political cover.

European settlers in North America pursued a cut and burn approach to trees. The frontier needed to be shaped for early white settlements. Crops had to be planted. Great Britain needed ship masts and timber from the new world.

Anyone interested in pursuing tree planting on a large scale today might be thrown into a marginalized Johnny Appleseed category—a spectrum from why-bother to crackpot.

Only in the last few weeks has it become curious to me—why there is there so little interest in living trees and so much interest in trying to save statues to preserve a culture of dead, white men?

Why not replace every Confederate with 3 trees?


  1. Excellent idea.

    (Re statues: traveling in Canada once, we were startled to see statues of Cornwallis and a motel chain named for Benedict Arnold, who apparently was a hero from the Canadian point of view.)

  2. Absolutely. If memory serves, after the tornado, the otherwise loathsome Mitch McConnell came up big to reforest Cherokee Park. Allen, am I remembering that correctly?

    • ​It’s possible McConnell might have had something to do with tree replanting in Cherokee Park after the 1974 tornado. Trees Incorporated was started by Ed Perry, Biff Roberts and others for this purpose. Mitch might have had a hand in this. Mitch came up big, years later, with Federal infrastructure money for bridges and roadways for the new Parklands at Floyds Fork.That was back when there was porkbarrel money up for grabs. So, at least he’s got a soft spot for parks.

  3. What a superb observation! While I appreciate the excellence of well-crafted sculpture, I have no problem removing those that celebrate something I cannot and will not believe in. Replacing them with at least 3 trees is the best idea I’ve heard yet. Thank you, Allen Bush!

  4. “so much interest in trying to save statues to preserve a culture of dead, white men”

    It’s American culture, that’s why – real Americans have no interest in destroying our own history. Adding more trees is fine, too, but those men fought and died and worked to build this nation, protect their families, etc. It never ends with erasing one piece of history. There’s always something else to hate and destroy.

      • “Raging ignorance and hatred.” You must have had a very soft life to get that out of Dave’s simple comment! Congrats.

    • They didn’t fight to build THIS country, they fought to tear it apart and build a different country out of one of the pieces. They lost, and their ideology was rejected. It isn’t “erasing history” to eliminate monuments to failed ideologies.

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