By Hannah Bleau – 7/1/2020
The New York Times has set its sights on Mount Rushmore as protesters demand the removal of historic monuments in the name of racial justice, citing its location on “Indigenous land,” the sculptor’s purported ties to white supremacy, and two of its subjects’ slave ownership.
“Mount Rushmore was built on land that belonged to the Lakota tribe and sculpted by a man who had strong bonds with the Ku Klux Klan. It features the faces of 2 U.S. presidents who were slaveholders,” the New York Times wrote, linking to a news article detailing complaints against American landmark:
The Times piece lists three broad grievances with Mount Rushmore, beginning with the sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, who was previously involved in “an enormous bas-relief at Stone Mountain in Georgia that memorialized Confederate leaders.”
“It was eventually completed without him, but Mr. Borglum formed strong bonds with leaders of the Ku Klux Klan and participated in their meetings, in part to secure funding for the Stone Mountain project,” the Times wrote, adding that Borglum “also espoused white supremacist and anti-Semitic ideas, according to excerpts from his letters included in ‘Great White Fathers,’ a book by the writer John Taliaferro about the history of Mount Rushmore.”
It is not just the sculptor critics take issue with but the faces featured in the landmark located in South Dakota’s Black Hills. Their grievances even extend to Abraham Lincoln, signer of the Emancipation Proclamation:
Critics of the monument have also taken issue with the men whose faces were etched into the granite. Mr. Borglum chose Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt, he said, because they embodied “the founding, expansion, preservation and unification of the United States.”
But each of these titans of American history has a complicated legacy. Washington and Jefferson were slaveholders. Roosevelt actively sought to Christianize and uproot Native Americans as the United States expanded, Professor Smith said. “He was a racist,” he added.
And although Lincoln was behind the Emancipation Proclamation — a move some have characterized as reluctant and late — he has been criticized for his response to the so-called Minnesota Uprising, in which more than 300 Native Americans were sentenced to death by a military court after being accused of attacking white settlers in 1862.
The Times piece also laments the location of the landmark, writing that it is “built on land that had belonged to the Lakota tribe.” It goes on to quote Nick Tilsen, a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe and leader of the Indigenous activist group NDN Collective, who stated that Mount Rushmore “needs to be closed as a national monument, and the land itself needs to be returned to the Indigenous people.”
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