Ignored History

When I came across this article I immediately thought of our reading for Dr. Bolton’s class about the Colfax Massacre. According to this article, the 1910 massacre of African Americans in Slocum, Texas went unrecognized by the U.S. government until 2011. A historical marker was not put up until 2015. Some of the reasons behind why the historical marker had not been placed earlier left me with a horrible feeling in my stomach.

Although efforts had been made to get a historical marker placed in the 1980s, the chairman of the Anderson County historical commission, Jimmy Ray Odom, denied the request because, “It was mislabeled a massacre. A massacre is when you kill hundreds of people.” Even after the U.S. government acknowledged the massacre, people still fought against the historical marker claiming that there was a lack of documentation stating who the murderers were and how many people actually died. This argument against the historic marker sickened me the most:

“The citizens of Slocum today had absolutely nothing to do with what happened over a hundred years ago. This is a nice, quiet community with a wonderful school system. It would be a shame to mark them as racist from now until the end of time.”

Just because something unpleasant occurred in our history does not mean we should blatantly ignore it. This article has left me pondering many questions. How many more of these kind of massacres have gone ignored? What role could museums play to bring this to the public’s attention? How do cases like this compare with the current controversy concerning Civil War monuments?

 

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3 thoughts on “Ignored History

  1. I am so glad you posted this Karen, I was actually about to post it myself. This article had me thinking about the Colfax Massacre, but also our reading for 709. As we discussed in class, and as Ashley Jackson pointed out, historians (and the public) should not over look history and important events just because they’re unpleasant.

    I believe that it is a large part of the museums role to discuss these issues. Not even just museums, though, public historians as a whole. I think what they could do is relate these past issues to present day issues. Maybe not a massacre exactly, but racial injustices and discrimination. As public historians it is our job to educate, but to also make history relevant as we have discussed so much the last two weeks.

    Furthermore, this relates to the Civil War monuments on a few different levels. For Civil War monuments, people believe they should stand because it is a part of their heritage, men gave the ultimate sacrifice, etc. Others believe they should be torn down because of the wording on some, others want to be removed because they are portrayed as racist, etc. With this monument, people are afraid to leave it up because it appears racist and others want it standing because of the historical significance to the town, those who died, etc. With all of that being said, no matter how unpleasant the history is, the markers should stay. If they are incorrect, or racist, or otherwise – they need to be corrected. Maybe not even torn down, because the marker itself is now history. Portraying an inaccurate history is unethical, which is why I believe they should be corrected. Tearing the markers down just does everyone an injustice. Covering up certain aspects of history whether it be Confederacy, Union, or massacres. Erecting such monuments, and teaching acceptance, equality, and history is what is important.

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    • We academics tend to get bogged down in debates about removing CS monuments, or maintaining them. That isn’t a fruitful discussion for a number of reasons, but most importantly, each instance of a monument or problematic landscape is singular and should be considered according to so many variables of stewardship, legal status, ownership, and other local, communal needs, that no single prescription leaning toward removing or maintaining can be applied.

      What we should be thinking about are methods to educate on discrete levels and within the constraints that community and stewardship offer. Many aspects ought to be considered, beginning, of course, with the visitor. As we’ve talked about, offering a challenge to the visitor is good, but the visitor has to buy into it. Alienating the visitor is not an effective tool. So that means large and small efforts must be made from maintaining the integrity of your institution, to acknowledging programming as challenging, to appealing to pre-visit inclinations (like Falk talked about), to offering moments for reflection, and opening up your curatorial voice to include the voices of a truly wide variety of historical and contemporary actors–and–critically–not in a leveling way that enforces consensus and “neutrality” over true debate.

      I just read an AASLH Technical Leaflet on “Interpreting Difficult Knowledge” by Julia Rose, and she penetrates the visitor’s cognitive reaction to unpleasant histories, noting that initial resistance to an interpretation of a past that makes one uncomfortable–she terms these moments “learning crises”–and they should be taken seriously. So, visitors will arrive, see your interpretation, and leave, joke about it, declare it politically correct, or otherwise diminish it’s importance. That can be managed well (and the first step, I might add, is to not disregard people’s genuine differences of opinion) through repetition, reflection, and so on. But like Nina Simon said, these moments have to be carefully designed.

      Anyhow, I’m rambling.

      Drilling down beyond the abstract debates about removal… how do you turn this process of putting up these markers or using them as pedagogical tools into positive educational resources?

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  2. This article was pretty interesting for me, because Slocum, TX is just about an hour and a half from where I grew up. I had to look it up on a map, but I probably have driven through it to get to Tyler. This argument on why the historic marker shouldn’t be erected doesn’t come as much as a surprise to me. At least where I grew up, there was very little discussion about such unpleasant events. It wasn’t until after I moved that I found out about some of the things that happened around my town. I think it is just much easier to ignore it than to bring up such shameful events, but I do hope that historic markers such as the Slocum Massacre do continue throughout Texas. There is a great need for better understanding of past actions in Texas and I am sure in many other states. I just think these stories will help educate a new generation of the pitfalls of racial divide, and encourage a better dialogue on these matters within the state.

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