Some student leaders still want president’s statue to note his ‘mass execution’ of natives
The University of Wisconsin-Madison wants to publicly acknowledge its associations with white supremacists from nearly 100 years ago.
The official move to study and recognize racially problematic parts of the university’s past, however, has brought back an issue the student government dealt with this spring: Abraham Lincoln’s legacy.
A protest group floated the idea of removing the large statue of the 16th president of the United States from campus two years ago, and last year the landmark was draped in a black tarp during a racial protest by students.
The student government approved a resolution in the spring semester that would educate the community about Lincoln’s “oppression.”
A spokesperson told The Daily Cardinal in August there was still “interest from representatives on the issue” of recognizing Lincoln’s legacy toward local native populations, though an unidentified Student Council member told The College Fix there was no resolution pending.
The UW-Madison administration did not adopt the Lincoln measure this spring, but months later it cryptically said that new names and signage on campus “will reflect the Native history of the lands on which UW–Madison sits.”
Administration promises it won’t bother Lincoln
In the wake of August’s white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, which left one counterprotester dead, UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank tasked a new committee with studying “two student organizations” from the 1920s “named after or otherwise affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan.”
Both Young Americans for Freedom and the College Democrats endorsed the chancellor’s move, according to The Badger Herald.
Blank said the work was related to an earlier initiative on changing campus names and signs to recognize local native history.
The Daily Cardinal put Blank’s announcement in the context of an order by Madison Mayor Paul Soglin days earlier to remove a Confederate plaque from a cemetery on public land. Associated Students of Madison, an official state agency, took Soglin one step further, saying there was “no place for bigotry, racism, or white supremacy on college campuses” as well.
A university spokesperson quickly disputed that the Lincoln statue would be affected by the names-and-signs initiative, telling the Daily that there would be “four or five signs” added around campus to “interpret the 12,000 year history” of those who inhabited the land before the university.
The statue has occasionally been used to make political statements. It was plastered with graffiti right after the 2016 general election, reading “all white people are racist” – the same phrase that appeared on a brand of clothing created by a black student a month earlier.
‘Officially, no legislation has been brought forward’
Lincoln would not be targeted for removal from campus under a resolution that passed the student government in the prior academic year, but his legacy would be publicly tarnished. The resolution asked the administration to add a new plaque to the statue that recognized “his role in the systematic oppression of native people.”
Indigenous student group Wunk Sheek has been agitating for the official public disparagement of Lincoln for nearly a year, if not longer.
It held a die-in at the statue on Columbus Day last year to protest the legacies of both Christopher Columbus and Lincoln, who is responsible for “the largest mass execution” of American Indians “ordered by a U.S. president,” the group told the Daily.
Wunk Sheek hung a #DecolonizeOurCampus sign around the statue’s neck describing the execution. “He owned slaves, and as natives, we want people to know that he ordered the execution of native men,” said Misha (Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe), co-president of fiscal relations. “Just to have him here at the top of Bascom [Hill] is just really belittling.”
Asked whether Associated Students of Madison, which is also an official Wisconsin agency, would once again demand the branding of Lincoln as a genocidal oppressor, a spokesperson provided The Fix a statement from a Student Council member that declined to be identified.
“Officially, no legislation has been brought forward, and until such time as Student Council comes to a consensus vote, the statue will remain,” the unidentified council member wrote. “Any legislation brought forward would be debated publicly and the fate of the statue decided in open forum, so far as Student Council has power to suggest.”
“The council and its members do not make decisions “on a ‘fast track’ because of political convenience,” the member continued. “The current atmosphere only brought light on the issue, and a resolution would be made with complete understanding of that issue.”
CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, the original article misidentified one of the groups supporting Chancellor Blank’s review. It is actually Young Americans for Freedom. The article has been amended accordingly.
IMAGE: Eric E Johnson/Flickr