Racist Mascots, Confederate Statues on Slate for NMAAHC Symposium

Bree Newsome of Charlotte, N.C., climbs a flagpole to remove the Confederate battle flag at a Confederate monument in front of the Statehouse in Columbia, S.C., on Saturday, June, 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Bruce Smith)

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and the National Museum of the American Indian will team for a symposium this weekend that examines the history and contested memory of racialized mascots, Civil War monuments and other public memorials.

The six-hour event will be held Saturday, March 3 from 10 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. in the museum’s Oprah Winfrey Theater, where museum Director Lonnie Bunch and NMAI Director Kevin Gover have assembled more than a dozen scholars, activists, elected officials, artists and athletes to grapple with conflicting interpretations of American history in light of events such as the demonstrations at Charlottesville, Va., and whether Confederate monuments should be removed from public spaces.

“At a moment when mascots and monuments are raising new and important questions, this symposium reveals the intersections between memory and history, and the role that both play in defining our national identity,” Bunch said. “We hope that visitors will come away from the symposium not only aware of the complexity of these topics, but also with a willingness to embrace ambiguity and challenge easy answers. The time has come to deconstruct the mascots, monuments and other symbols that define our nation, adding nuance and context to a history long forgotten.”

Ibram X. Kendi, the National Book Award-winning author of “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America,” will give the keynote for the symposium at 1 p.m. From 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., artists and activists will discuss the impact of 19th- and 20th-century racialized symbolism today in “The Politics of Memory.”

The panel includes moderator Lonnae O’Neal, senior writer for ESPN’s “The Undefeated”; American filmmaker, musician and activist Bree Newsome; writer and policy analyst Julian Brave Noisecat (Canim Lake Band Tsq’escen); and Andrew Demshuk, assistant professor of history at American University.

Bunch will lead the third panel, “Monuments and Power: Memory vs. History,” from 3:45 p.m.-5:15 p.m. This panel will explore the relationship between memory, power and identity and discuss the next steps after the removal of historically and culturally insensitive monuments.

Moderated by museum curator Paul Gardullo, speakers include Tom Finkelpearl, commissioner of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs; Aaron Bryant, museum curator and chair of the Special Commission to Review Baltimore’s Confederate Monuments; and Gus Casely-Hayford, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art.

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