Historians weigh in on Trump's picks for new 'Garden of Heroes'

No Latinos, only five African Americans and not a single Democratic president: Historians weigh in on Trump’s ‘odd and inappropriate’ picks for new National Garden of American Heroes

  • Historians have noted the lack of diversity in President Trump’s picks for his new monument
  • Trump announced in a speech at Mount Rushmore Friday that he wished to create a ‘National Garden of American Heroes’
  • He signed an Executive Order beginning the creation of a monument to honor the ‘greatest Americans who ever lived’
  • Statues will include Justice Antonin Scalia, President Ronald Reagan and civil rights activists Martin Luther King Jr. and Harriet Tubman
  • It comes as statues of certain historical figures are pulled down or removed across the country
  • Trump said those calling for the removal of statues want to ‘desecrate our common inheritance’ 

Historians have weighed in on Trump’s picks for his new National Garden of American Heroes, branding the president’s choices as ‘odd’ and ‘inappropriate’, amid nationwide protests calling for the toppling of Confederate statues. 

During a rabble-rousing speech at Mount Rushmore on Friday, Trump announced an executive order to create the new monument honoring ‘the greatest Americans who ever lived.’   

The memorial, described as a ‘vast outdoor park’, will include statues of the likes of George Washington, Ronald Reagan, Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman, Amelia Earhart and a number of army generals.  

Trump, for the most part, steered clear of any overtly controversial choices, but the list has been criticized for its ‘random’ selection of people, the exclusion of Latinos and Native Americans, and the politically tone deaf timing of the move. 

President Trump made the announcement as he opened the Fourth of July weekend with a fiery speech and fireworks at the iconic Mount Rushmore, pictured above

Former conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (pictured right) and President Ronald Reagan (pictured left) are among the names included in the initial lists

A statue of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. will be included if the memorial is built

It comes as protesters around the US are calling for the removal of statues, mostly those of Confederate generals and leaders, in light of recent demonstrations over racial injustice. 


  • President Trump’s new executive order calls for the park to include statues of the following Americans: 
  • John Adams, second US president
  • Susan B. Anthony, leader of the women’s suffrage movement 
  • Clara Barton, nurse and founder of the American Red Cross
  • Daniel Boone, American pioneer
  • Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Civil War Union colonel
  • Henry Clay, US Secretary of State under John Adams
  • Davy Crockett, US frontiersman
  • Frederick Douglass, abolitionist leader during Civil War
  • Amelia Earhart, first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean
  • Benjamin Franklin, US Founding Father and inventor 
  • Billy Graham, evangelist 
  • Alexander Hamilton, US Founding Father
  • Thomas Jefferson, US Founding Father and third president 
  • Martin Luther King, Jr., civil rights leader and minister
  • Abraham Lincoln, 16th US president
  • Douglas MacArthur, WWII Army general
  • Dolley Madison, US first lady and wife of James Madison 
  • James Madison, fourth US president and Founding Father
  • Christa McAuliffe, astronaut 
  • Audie Murphy, WWII hero 
  • George S. Patton, Jr., WWII Army general
  • Ronald Reagan, 40th US president  
  • Jackie Robinson, first African American MLB player 
  • Betsy Ross, designer of first American flag
  • Antonin Scalia, Supreme Court Justice
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe, abolitionist and author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin
  • Harriet Tubman, abolitionist and leader of Underground Railroad 
  • Booker T. Washington, prominent African American educator and leader during Jim Crow era
  • George Washington, first US president
  • Orville and Wilbur Wright, inventors of world’s first motor-powered airplane

Karen Cox, a history professor at University of Carolina, Charlotte said the creation of a new monument does not address the current issues of race plaguing the country.

‘It’s just so random. It’s like they threw a bunch of stuff on the wall and just went with whatever stuck,’ she told the Washington Post. ‘Nothing about this suggests it’s thoughtful.’ 

Although most people would recognize most people on the list as influential historical figures, experts highlighted a few problematic picks. 

Out of the 30 selections, only five are African American, none are Latino nor Native American, and not a single Democratic president made it to the list.  

Some questioned Trump’s choice of Daniel Boone, a frontiersman who fought wars against Native Americans, and the more obscure Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, a Union officer in the Civil War. 

Historian Adam Domby said Trump appeared to have played it safe in his choices for black Americans which included Martin Luther King, Jr., Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, Jackie Robinson, and Frederick Douglass.  

‘It raises so many odd historical questions,’ he told the Post. 

‘They include some African Americans, but only ones that might be considered “safe” or “comfortable” like Jackie Robinson and Martin Luther King Jr. Where’s W.E.B. Dubois? Where’s Malcolm X?’

Others also suggested the executive order seems like an attempt to mobilize the president’s political base ahead of the election, after he ordered the taskforce to submit a report detailing the plans and location for the garden within 60 days. 

‘There’s no rush here. The only real emergency is that there’s an election coming up,’ James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association said. 

Grossman said the choices varied from ‘odd to probably inappropriate to provocative.’

Journalist Douglas Blackmon criticized the executive order on Twitter, questioning Trump’s lack of response to the vandalism of monuments belonging to Civil War heroes.

‘If [Trump] believes so strongly in history and statues and memorials, start with protecting Civil Rights era true heroes from desecration and vandalism. And how about a national monument to opponents of southern secession? And to abolitionists?’ he said. 

Trump made the announcement as he opened the Fourth of July weekend with a fiery speech and fireworks at the iconic Mount Rushmore. 

The famed landmark itself has come under fire, especially from Native Americans who say it was built on stolen land.

Around 100 protesters gathered on the road into Keystone ahead of the president’s speech. 

Trump led into the garden announcement by paying tribute to a litany of American icons, from political figures like Ulysses S. Grant and Frederick Douglass to entertainers like Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra.

‘We will raise the next generation of American patriots,’ Trump said at Mount Rushmore.  

‘We will write the next thrilling chapter of the American adventure. And we will teach our children to know that they live in a land of legends, that nothing can stop them, and that no one can hold them down.’ 

Journalist Douglas Blackmon criticized the executive order on Twitter, noting the lack of Latino historical figures 

One user questioned Trump’s decision to erect a new monument in the midst of protests and a pandemic 

According to an Executive Order issued by the White House Friday, the garden should be completed and open for public access before the 250th anniversary of the proclamation of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 2026. 

The site it will be built on has yet to be revealed but will be ‘a site of natural beauty that enables visitors to enjoy nature, walk among the statues, and be inspired to learn about great figures of America’s history’.  

American abolitionist and political activist Harriet Tubman was also named in the list of heroes

Frontiersman Davy Crockett was named in Trump’s initial list of American heroes

The order states that those chosen ‘contributed positively to America throughout our history’ such as baseball player Jackie Robinson (left) and abolitionist Frederick Douglass (right)

It will feature statues of several presidents as well as other historic notables, including Davy Crockett, Amelia Earhart, Billy Graham and Orville and Wilbur Wright. 

The wording of the Executive Order took a direct hit at the removal of Confederate statues in recent weeks following protests sparked by the death on May 25 of black man George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.

It praised the importance of keeping the country’s monuments and lashed out at those ‘inflamed by fashionable political passions’ who wish to take them down. 

‘America owes its present greatness to its past sacrifices,’ the order reads.

‘Because the past is always at risk of being forgotten, monuments will always be needed to honor those who came before. Since the time of our founding, Americans have raised monuments to our greatest citizens. 

‘These statues are silent teachers in solid form of stone and metal. They preserve the memory of our American story and stir in us a spirit of responsibility for the chapters yet unwritten. 

‘To destroy a monument is to desecrate our common inheritance. In recent weeks, in the midst of protests across America, many monuments have been vandalized or destroyed,’ it added. 

‘These statues are not ours alone, to be discarded at the whim of those inflamed by fashionable political passions; they belong to generations that have come before us and to generations yet unborn.’

The inclusion of Founding Fathers such as George Washington may be controversial 

There have already been calls to remove the Lincoln Emancipation Memorial in D.C.

In the order, Trump vowed that ‘my Administration will not abide an assault on our collective national memory’.

‘In the face of such acts of destruction, it is our responsibility as Americans to stand strong against this violence, and to peacefully transmit our great national story to future generations through newly commissioned monuments to American heroes.’ 

The order states that those chosen ‘contributed positively to America throughout our history’ and included everyone from the Founding Fathers to those who fought for the abolition of slavery or participated in the underground railroad. 

Those included, and not included, may cause controversy, however.  

Elected officials and institutions are reckoning with whether it is appropriate to continue to honor people, including past presidents, who benefited from slavery or espoused racist views, with monuments or buildings and streets named after them. 

Names that may court controversy include Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016, a conservative Supreme Court judge. There is no liberal counterpart named on the list. 

Republican president Ronald Reagan is also the only modern-day president on the list, excluding Democrats John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. 

The inclusion of The Founding Fathers, in particular, will be unwelcome to some as calls are already mounting to have their likeness taken down in monuments across the country.  

Trump announced the garden during a speech followed by fireworks at Mount Rushmore 

It comes as elected officials and institutions are reckoning with whether it is appropriate to continue to honor people, including past presidents, who benefited from slavery or espoused racist views, with monuments or buildings and streets named after them. Pictured is a toppled George Washington statue in Oregon torn town by protesters on June 19

Protesters in Washington D.C.  have already targeted the Emancipation Memorial which features Lincoln standing with a former enslaved person kneeling at his feet. The statue was funded by former slave but they had no say in its controversial design. 

Absent from Trump’s initial list are any Native American or Hispanic individuals. 

The order includes language to make clear that non-U.S. citizens who played significant roles in American history also could be honored in the garden.

As examples of individuals who made substantive contributions to America´s public life or otherwise had a substantive effect on America’s history, it cites: Italian explorer Christopher Columbus; Junipero Serra, a Roman Catholic priest who established Spanish missions in California; and the Marquis de La Fayette, a French officer who fought in the American Revolutionary War.

A statue of Columbus, who has been criticized for brutal treatment of Native Americans, was removed this past week from outside the city hall in Columbus, Ohio. 

Last month, protesters also toppled a statue of Serra in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Some historians say that Serra, who was canonized by the Catholic Church, had a mixed history that included him acting as an agent of the Spanish Empire´s colonization efforts in the 18th Century.

The monument is far from a done deal and Trump’s plan could be dashed if presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden denies him a second term in November. 

The full list of those whose statues will be included are John Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, Daniel Boone, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Henry Clay, Davy Crockett, Frederick Douglass, Amelia Earhart, Benjamin Franklin, Billy Graham, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Douglas MacArthur, Dolley Madison, James Madison, Christa McAuliffe, Audie Murphy, George S. Patton, Jr., Ronald Reagan, Jackie Robinson, Betsy Ross, Antonin Scalia, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, George Washington, and Orville and Wilbur Wright. 

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