Last Friday, the debate about the influence and presence of the Confederate flag resulted in the emblem’s removal from the South Carolina State House grounds. As staunch supporters of the flag argue it is a symbol of Southern heritage that should be preserved, another battle over “traditional” symbols is brewing. In Boise, Idaho, a preservation group is fighting to keep two murals depicting the lynching of a Native American in a university and government affairs building.
The murals in question currently hang in a former courthouse that will soon house some of the Idaho Supreme Court’s operations, the University of Idaho’s College of Law, and the state’s law library. A few years ago, the building was used for state legislature meetings, and commemorative plaques were placed near the murals. The state’s Native tribes consented to keeping the artwork up as long as the plaques were installed, but a debate about the murals’ presence has sprung up once again. And in response to the latest dispute, Preservation Idaho submitted a letter to the University of Idaho asking that the art remain on display — using Idaho’s history to justify the murals’ presence.
“Idahoans have not destroyed the sites of the Bear River Massacre, the Minidoka Internment Camp, or Massacre Rocks State Park,” wrote Preservation Idaho president Paula Benson. “We deplore what happened at the sites but we acknowledge them so that we may reflect and learn from past mistakes.” The art was originally hung in the 1930s.
“Certainly we can’t destroy those murals. There’s value in those murals, and that was established,” Bob Geddes, the director of the Department of Administration, which owns the building, told the Spokesman-Review. “We’ve given them the go-ahead if they want to drape those with something, but they should not destroy them or take away the plaques.” In light of the controversy, banners will cover the murals for now.
But the preservation argument is one that keeps popping up.
With the push to “take down the flag” gaining steam, Native Americans are trying to use that momentum to fight the Redskins team name. Widely perceived as a racist slur among Native Americans, the name is a profitable one for NFL stakeholders who are reluctant to change it. However, opponents of the change, including the team’s owner, Daniel Snyder, have defended the name on the grounds that it honors the franchise’s second coach — who may or may not have actually been of Sioux heritage and attended the Native American boarding school where the team originated. But those who are trying to keep the team name alive were dealt a huge blow last week, when a federal court canceled the franchise’s trademarks.
A similar battle, inspired by the Confederate flag debate, has been reignited in Whitesboro, New York. The town’s seal currently shows the founder, Hugh White, strangling a Native American and pushing him to the ground. The logo is depicted on official documents, highways, and vehicles, but a social media campaign was recently waged to get the seal removed. The town previously agreed to alter the image by putting White’s hands on the Native American’s shoulders, but it never fulfilled its promise to change the seal.
“Some have reached out directly to me through my village email. And if they looked at the seal and went with an opinion based solely on what they’re looking at, I could understand why people would have concern about it. But, [as with] everything else, I think you have to take all the facts into consideration,” Mayor Patrick O’Connor maintains. “And if people take the time to do that and they reach out to us, or they do the research themselves, it’s actually a very accurate depiction of friendly wrestling matches that took place back in those days.”