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Cornell, do the right thing — reinstall the Lincoln display

A Cornell University library has removed a bust of President Abraham Lincoln next to a display of the Gettysburg Address. It should be put back, immediately.

The College Fix repeatedly sought request for comment on the display’s whereabouts and reason for removal for five days prior to running its exclusive story last week, and Cornell’s media relations department and president’s office ignored us.

After we published our story, Cornell’s communications team told Fox News: “President Lincoln’s bust was part of a temporary exhibit on the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. The bust was on display in the Rare and Manuscript Collections from 2013 to 2021.”

The university’s claim that it was only a temporary display rings tremendously hollow.

For one, it was up for nearly a decade. Most temporary library displays or exhibits, in general, are up for about four to six months. This was up for eight years. What’s more, Ezra Cornell owned the bust of Lincoln, so it’s not like it was on loan or anything. The Ivy League university likely still has possession of it. It’s still ignoring our requests for comment, by the way.

Secondly, the display was replaced with nothing. There’s literally a white wall where Lincoln and the Gettysburg once stood. It would be one thing if the library had replaced the presidential display with something else. It did not and has not.

The Cornell spokesperson said the display was taken down in 2021, but did not provide a precise month. But let’s split the middle and guess it was taken down during the summer of 2021 — that would be almost a year of white walls when the Lincoln bust and Gettysburg display could instead have greeted students. Whoever is running this library should get their head examined.

Speaking of which, after our article was published, a couple of interesting items were flagged that may shed some additional light on the motivation for the display’s removal vis-à-vis Cornell librarians’ own statements.

A May 2021 article from the Daily Mail is headlined “Cornell University librarian demands LIBRARIES be held accountable for their ‘fraught history of being complicit in racism.’”

“Libraries are predominantly white fields, and Cornell is no exception in this regard. Libraries themselves also have a fraught history of being complicit in racism, and in some cases, upholding and disseminating racist ideas,” said Reanna Esmail, a librarian at Cornell’s Olin Library, not the Ivy League’s Kroch Library where the Lincoln display was removed.

Nevertheless, the degrees of separation are slim. So who is in charge of the Kroch Library, which houses Cornell’s rare and manuscript collections? In 2021, when the decision to remove the Lincoln display was made, it was held by Tamar Evangelestia-Dougherty.

In June 2020 Evangelestia-Dougherty tweeted: “Reminder that subtle bias and racism in libraries is just as abusive as more blatant examples. This is exhibited as petty behavior and slights on a daily basis, gaslighting, constant questioning & challenging behaviors that make POC feel uncomfortable or unwanted.”

She began work as director of the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives in November 2021.

About two weeks ago, she gave a speech titled “Dear Librarians, No more trauma, no more pain: Reclaiming Our Value and Choosing To Win” at a conference. The speech discussed the “act of reclaiming [as] one of empowerment and reconciliation which cannot come without painful and necessary reckoning with the combined and connected forces of whiteness, distrust, passivity, and inertia,” according to its online description.

Currently the Kroch University Librarian is Elaine Westbrooks, hired in the spring of 2022. She was previously vice provost and university librarian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In 2020, Westbrooks committed UNC’s libraries “to action in reckoning with systemic racism and oppression,” according to the university’s website.

Unfortunately, these three librarians seem sympathetic to the notion of removing the Lincoln display, because combatting systemic racism has become a cudgel for demonizing our nation’s past leaders.

When Cornell University biology Professor Randy Wayne had asked about the longtime display’s whereabouts to the library staff at Kroch, they had mostly shrugged their shoulders and told him it was removed due to some kind of “complaint.”

Cornell’s official statement completely sidestepped the issue with its claim the display was temporary. We’re not buying it.

Wayne told The College Fix he is aware of some alumni and donors who are upset by the decision — and even a prayer group that is seeking a change of heart and the return of the Lincoln and Gettysburg display.

We support that effort. Cornell’s students deserve it, and America’s legacy does, too.

MORE: Cornell library removes Gettysburg Address, Lincoln bust

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About the Author
Fix Editor
Jennifer Kabbany is editor-in-chief of The College Fix.