BERLIN HEIGHTS — Youngsters do have a voice on state policy — even when the matter is something as seemingly innocuous as a statue.
Just ask Berlin Elementary fifth graders.
For a writing assignment, students wrote letters to state Rep. Mark Wagoner (R-Toledo) about which statue should replace Gov. William Allen’s in the U.S. Capitol.
State lawmakers wish to replace the statue of the 19th century congressman and Ohio governor. He had portrayed blacks as savages and supported Southern slave owners’ rights.
Lawmakers on a six-member statuary committee want Ohio fifth graders, who have an Ohio history requirement in their curriculum, to recommend another famous Ohioan.
Berlin-Milan fifth graders were the first to send Wagoner suggestions.
Wagoner, the committee’s vice chairman, said he was struck by how much thought students apparently put into their essays. And so, he paid them a visit.
“The fact that you spoke up may make the difference of who’s out there,” Wagoner said, referring to a new statue.
The students said the person should be a good leader, loyal and smart, among other things.
The children threw out names such as black Olympic gold medalist Jesse Owens, who disproved Hitler’s theory of a supreme Aryan race; Michael Owens, a Toledoan who patented a glass-blowing machine in the late 1800s; and Milan’s famous son, inventor Thomas Edison.
“Wouldn’t it be great if we had someone from Milan?” Wagoner asked the students rhetorically.
Brady Wilson said he recommended Owens. Why? He was a good athlete and good sportsperson, the 11-year-old said.
Brady and fellow fifth-grader Amanda Vartorella agreed Allen, the former Ohio governor, is not a good choice.
“He liked slavery and that’s just bad,” Brady said.
Amanda, 10, said all people are equal, regardless of their skin color.
“It matters what’s on the inside, not the outside,” she said. Amanda had suggested Michael Owens, since he brought industry into Ohio.
The two students may differ about the new statue, but they and Wagoner agree Allen must go.
“I think he wants the statue changed just as much as everyone else,” Brady said.
Allen is one of two Ohioans in the National Statuary Hall, a large semicircular room in the U.S. Capitol that honors historic figures from each state. Ohio donated Allen’s statue to the collection in 1887.
For now, Allen’s statue stands next to that of James Garfield, the nation’s 20th president.