Today, let’s briefly look at the “debate” that has arisen about the possibility of Mount Rushmore being targeted for vandalism or removal in the wake of several other statues and monuments around the nation coming down during the recent social unrest that started with George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis in late May.
First, at least it’s a refreshing change of pace. Usually, somebody always comes up with an idea of putting a fifth face on the South Dakota mountain, which reportedly is probably impractical because of the geological issues involved. Still, it comes up for argument occasionally — mostly to START an argument, we suspect.
Second, the “Shrine to Democracy,” which still reigns as perhaps the most impressive American monument in this country, if not the world, in all likelihood won’t be coming down. This is not some confederate statue standing in a park; it’s a massive geological sculpture that took 14 years to construct. While some critics may talk of bringing it down, it’s an unrealistic endeavor in most every sense. (It’s also a major economic driver that impacts everybody in that region.)
Third, as far as we can tell, this issue has been revved up by a tweet from conservative columnist Ben Shapiro wondering, “So, when is our woke historical revisionist priesthood going to insist on blowing up Mount Rushmore?” In response, Gov. Kristi Noem replied, “Not on my watch.” This was then conflated into a news story, in part because it precedes President Donald Trump’s scheduled visit to a fireworks display on July 3.
To be fair, there are a few voices that have spoken of removing the monument. Oglala Sioux President Julian Bear Runner told the Argus Leader last week that he believes the monument should be removed because it was created on land that was never formally ceded to the U.S. government by the Sioux, who still consider the Black Hills to be part of the Great Sioux Reservation.
“To me, (the monument is) a great sign of disrespect,” he said.
However, there are differing views on the issue. O.J. Semans of the Four Directions voting advocacy group told the Argus that the monument can stand as a learning opportunity for the hundreds of thousands of visitors who visit it each year.
“This is really a learning moment for the people who are in charge of Mount Rushmore to right a wrong,” he said. “Removing a statue doesn’t right a wrong.”
As is the case with most every historical figure, the four presidents depicted on Mount Rushmore have complicated histories that defy clear telling in stone. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were both slaveholders. Theodore Roosevelt was accused of aggressive imperialism and war-mongering. And Abraham Lincoln, known for conducting the war that destroyed slavery, also signed an order to hang 38 Sioux warriors in Minnesota after the Dakota Uprising of 1862. These hangings — believed to be the largest mass execution in U.S. history — occurred on Dec. 26, 1862, just six days before Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves.
For all practical purposes, Semans is correct: There is, at the very least, a learning opportunity with the monument. As such, it can be many things to many people and it can be a huge, towering reminder of the various views on our multifaceted past.
But it can’t be if it’s removed — which it won’t be. Not on anybody’s watch.