Tribune editorial: What statues go can’t be decided by mob action

Tribune editorial: What statues go can’t be decided by mob action

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The furious activity to topple or remove statues and monuments that protesters find offensive may seem outlandish to North Dakotans. However, we need to pause and realize the reason for the movement and its merits.

The Tribune editorial board doesn’t approve of mobs taking down statues under the cloak of darkness. We do understand why many of the statues and monuments create so much scorn. It goes beyond statues to include the names of parks, military bases and symbols. It’s a situation that’s been simmering for a while.

North Dakota isn’t immune to the demand for change. Earlier this year there was an attempt to rename Custer Park in Bismarck. Two mothers asked the Bismarck Park Board to rename the park because they felt Custer “is a reminder of violence and genocide.”

The board rejected the request but adopted a process for renaming parks and promised to create an educational marker to tell visitors about the park’s history, its namesake and area tribes.

The Spirit Lake Tribe did succeed in getting Sullys Hill renamed. Sullys Hill is on tribal land and served as a stark reminder of the Battle of White Stone Hill in which many Sioux died. The state’s congressional delegation supported the change.

A longtime favorite of North Dakota, Theodore Roosevelt, has been caught up in the firestorm of change. The American Museum of Natural History decided to remove a statue of Roosevelt from its entrance. The statue has Roosevelt on horseback with a Native American man and a Black man on foot next to him. It’s considered condescending at best. Roosevelt had a spotty record when it came to the treatment of minorities.

It’s something organizers of the proposed Roosevelt presidential library in Medora need to keep in mind. They have promised to tell the full story of Roosevelt’s life and they should, warts and all.

The Tribune doesn’t see the movement to remove monuments, names and symbols from public view as an attempt to rewrite history. Our history has been the focus of writings since this nation was founded, and new volumes come out daily.

Honoring some people with statues or naming military bases after them seems out of place. Naming military bases for Confederates who tried to overthrow this nation in the name of slavery is wrong. There’s a good reason the Pentagon is considering banning Confederate symbols from all branches of the military.

There needs to be a process for deciding what goes; it can’t be done through the judgment of protesters. Some decisions won’t be easy. There’s a push to remove Emancipation memorials in Washington, D.C., and Boston. The memorials have a freed Black man kneeling at the feet of Abraham Lincoln. The memorials were paid for by freed slaves, but they didn’t get to decide the memorials’ design. People today find the memorials offensive.

Closer to home, the president of the Oglala Sioux, Julian Bear Runner, wants the presidents on Mount Rushmore “removed but not blown up.” He doesn’t want to harm the environment with a big blast.

It may seem like heresy to want Mount Rushmore removed, but the history of the land, monuments and the presidents honored are marred by ownership of slaves, mistreatment of Native Americans and bigotry. While we don’t favor removing Mount Rushmore, we understand Bear Runner’s dissatisfaction.

We can’t rewrite history by taking down monuments and changing names. We can provide a better perspective of those who preceded us. Some deserve honors and some don’t. Deciding who does requires a reasoned approach, not mob action.

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