The University of Virginia Board of Visitors took another big step in purging its “white supremacist” past by voting Friday to take down the statue to George Rogers Clark. The Clark statue, critics say, perpetuates “the myth of brave white men conquering a supposedly unknown and unclaimed land.”
The cost of removing, relocating and storing the statue is estimated to cost $400,000. University officials expect the statue to be removed by the end of the summer. Then the university will start talking to students and the Indigenous community about what should replace it, reports The Daily Progress.
The removal, initially recommended by the UVa’s Racial Equity Task Force, advances the systematic extirpation of any names, memorials or statues that can be tangentially connected to “white supremacy.” The dismantling of the Clark statue is part of a larger set of recommendations to “repair relationships with Indigenous communities” by establishing a “tribal liaison position,” found a Center for Native American and Indigenous Studies, recruit Native and Indigenous faculty. And, of course, it is consistent with the denigration of anyone associated with the slave-holding era.
Clark, not to be confused with his younger brother William Clark of Lewis & Clark fame, was the highest-ranking American patriot military officer during the American Revolutionary War on the Northwestern frontier. His campaigns against the English-allied Indians weakened the British hold on what then were known as the “Northwest Territories,” located in and around Ohio. He has been known to historians as the “Conqueror of the Old Northwest,” although some say his accomplishments were exaggerated. He was accused of being drunk on duty and, later in life, was hounded by creditors.
The historical revisionists at UVa have reinterpreted the statue as a monument to White Supremacy. In an article in UVA Today, the house organ of the UVa administration, history Professor Christian McMillen didn’t criticize Clark as much as those the people who erected the statue.
With the closing of the frontier and America’s increasing urbanization, a key piece of America’s identity disappeared. When it did, a newfound interest in the country’s pioneer past emerged. At the same time, Indians had come to be considered a “vanishing race,” doomed to extinction. Fueling this notion was a proliferation of “expert” opinion regarding what they argued was the vanishingly low Native population prior to contact with Europeans – an argument used to justify denying Native peoples legal rights to land.6
Finally, the American West was reimagined as having been a wilderness, a land uninhabited and free for the taking. The American past was rewritten and Indians were erased. There was no place to recognize, for example, the “immense power” Jefferson knew the Sioux possessed over a huge swath of the Northern Plains. The West, in this new historical narrative, was empty. The statues dedicated to Lewis and Clark and George Rogers Clark reinforced this historical narrative.
The myth-building about the vanishing Indian would not only be advanced by monuments. More devastatingly, actual laws harmed Native people and exacerbated discrimination against them for decades.
McMillen then goes on to chronicle Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act, the suppression of Indian ethnic identity, and a litany of affronts against Indigenous Americans that have nothing whatsoever to do with Clark.
The history of relations between the early Americans and the Indian tribes was a complex one. Once upon a time, history was written entirely from the perspective of the White settlers, and the Indians were painted as violent savages. Indeed, the Indian way of war was savage, drawing no distinction between combatants and non-combatants and inclined to genocide. By the early 1900s, however, the myth of the brave, liberty-loving “noble savage” was taking root. And by the publication of “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” in 1970, popular culture was portraying Indians as largely innocent victims of rapacious Whites, as in fact they sometimes were.
But UVa’s revisionists have no interest in complexity or nuance.
The public documents referenced in the Board of Visitors website provide no justification for the statue’s removal, and the recording of the Friday meeting is not yet available on the board’s website. WVIR TV noted no discussion, adding by way of explanation only that “several activist groups and experts say [the statue] glorifies the violence against Native Americans.”
Bacon’s bottom line: I find it incomprehensible that the UVa Board of Visitors would consent to the systematic trashing of the nation’s and the university’s heritage with minimal discussion or debate. It is a good thing to add new layers of understanding of famed figures as scholarship and values evolve. But it is a cultural crime to erase them from our memory as if they had done nothing but inflict a never-ending succession of miseries upon mankind.
Here, take a look at the board members. They are all accomplished, successful people. Do they share the hatred of the founders of this country that UVa’s cultural radicals do? Or are they just pathetic, gutless specimens of humanity unwilling to stand up to the Twitter Outrage Mob?
How ironic that at the same meeting the Board approved a statement by a special committee reaffirming the principles of free expression and free speech. What a travesty! Not one of the nine board members — not one — felt free enough to express spirited opposition to the Ryan administration’s Taliban-like destruction of the past.
Note: This post was re-written to eliminate the confusion (entirely mine) between George Rogers Clark and William Clark.