The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, along with the National Museum of the American Indian, held a symposium over the weekend to examine the history of racialized mascots, Civil War monuments and other public memorials in the U.S.
The Saturday, March 3 discussion, held at the museum’s Oprah Winfrey Theater, addressed historical racist images and ideologies of white supremacy found throughout the U.S.
The panel consisted of a diverse group of political activists, including filmmaker Bree Newsome, who in 2015 climbed a flagpole in front of the South Carolina Capitol building to remove a Confederate flag.
“We recognized the powerful image of seeing a Black woman taking down the Confederate flag in South Carolina,” Newsome said. “From the case of Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner, who were murdered in Philadelphia by the Ku Klux Klan and the police in the ’60s, to Heather Heyer, who was plowed down by a white supremacist last year in Charlottesville, Virginia, we chose to attack a symbol of systemic racism with an action that symbolized its dismantling. For us, it was not and has never simply been about the flag [or other symbols of hate], but rather about abolishing the spirit of hatred and oppression in all its forms.”
Despite the progress people of color have made in the United States since the days of slavery, the country still has numerous monuments of systematic racism, from the statue of Saint Junipero Serra in California to the Columbus Circle in the center of New York City to the Andrew Jackson statue in D.C.
Ibrah X. Kendi, professor and director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center, called for the removal of such symbols, particularly those that mythologize the defeat of the Confederate South in the Civil War.
“What is the reason why [some], particularly Republican politicians, desire to … teach a particular brand of public history?” Kendi said. “If you control the classroom, then you control the people, so it is really up to us to drive this uphill battle and gain control of the classrooms and the curriculums.”
Panelists Julian Brave Noisecat, a Native American political analyst, and Andrew Demshuk, professor at American University, agreed that, like elimination of Nazi memorials in Germany, getting rid of Confederate monuments in the U.S. won’t erase history, but will help bring about civic justice and unity.