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Mt. Rushmore: One of America’s Worst Places

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Mt. Rushmore is a racist abomination.

The blasting of presidential faces into a South Dakota mountain was an openly racist act of the early twentieth century. This land had been stolen from the Lakota a mere half-century earlier. The early twentieth century was a period where Americans, even liberal New Dealers, deeply imbibed in frontier mythology, a Turnerian vision of America that just didn’t have any place in it for Native Americans. This is how Arthur Schelsinger‘s The Age of Jackson could be a famous prize-winning book without mentioning Cherokee Removal. It wasn’t just Schlesinger, it was a whole world view that ranged from left New Deal liberals like Rex Tugwell to the far right. America was made on the frontier and those who got in the way were just erased. This is also how someone like John Collier, a man genuinely sympathetic to Native issues, could run roughshod over Navajo sheep cultures to the point of engaging in a cultural genocide against them without even understanding what he was doing.

Mt. Rushmore represents all of this. It is not a symbol of American freedom. It is a symbol of American genocide. I was just reading Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment. Core to her argument is that the Second Amendment didn’t just exist for slavers, though it did. It’s that it existed so that every American could kill Indians. And kill Indians they did, over and over and over again for a century. Mt. Rushmore is an open approval of the processes by which, at least in the view of Americans in the 20s and 30s, the West was won. And won it was, in a beautifully violent manner if you were Theodore Roosevelt, whose face was blown into that mountain.

If you go to Mt. Rushmore today, it is a shitshow of revanchist fascism. Sure, lots of people visit it and they come from many backgrounds. But in few places in this nation have I seen more Confederate flags than on cars and clothing of the people visiting Mt. Rushmore. Sure, some of this is the biker crowd that descends on Sturgis for the big rally every summer and zips around the region pretending it was still 1972 on their big Harleys. But it’s not just that. The feeling there is of an overwhelmingly fascist and racist monument, which is exactly what it is. It is not a place we should use in our celebrations.

So color me dismayed that it is going to be used in suffrage anniversary celebrations:

Last November, Christina Korp was at dinner in Los Angeles talking with friends about the upcoming centennial of the 19th Amendment, which gave some women the right to vote. The amendment’s 100th anniversary deserved a big celebration, Korp believed, and she knew a bit about marking significant events. Last year, she produced the Apollo 50th Gala at the Kennedy Space Center.

Korp, an entertainment industry veteran, said she wanted to create some type of visual mosaic to honor the anniversary this August, prompting her friend to joke that Korp, a South Dakota native, should put images of women on the facade of Mount Rushmore in her home state. Korp took it seriously.

In late August and early September, Korp’s project, “Look Up to Her,” will become one of a number of ways the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission will mark the anniversary, along with a commemorative coin and medal produced by the U.S. Mint and a virtual event at the Kennedy Center. She’ll project the images of 14 female leaders of the suffrage and civil rights movements on Mount Rushmore, including women who never themselves got the right to vote.

This is a very problematic action. It’s also one that does not recognize that the suffrage movement itself was deeply imbued with racism, something that alienates many feminists of color from these celebrations today. In conclusion:

As we rethink of relationships to our historical monuments, Mt. Rushmore needs to be at the front of our consciousness.

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