New Historical Commission still avoids black history
by BRUCE SEAMAN
You can read in a previous post how tragically useless the former Marion County Historical Commission became during and after the Confederate flag fiasco in 2016. Populated by a majority who were either members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans or United Daughters of the Confederacy, the HC showed a scandalous disinterest and even hostility to black history in Marion County. It wore its racism on its sleeve and was indifferent to criticism.
After the Confederate flag issue was decided by the County Commission, new people sought positions on the Historical Commission, including its first black member. However, it didn’t handle the new views which these members brought with them too well. It became so dysfunctional that it made front page news and the Marion County Board of County Commissioners dissolved this citizen advisory board.
Eventually, a new Historical Commission was created with its members deriving from appointments made by County Commissioners. How do you think that’s worked out?
Historian Emmett Coyne penned an op-ed that appeared in the Sunday Star Banner on August 20, 2017. Click here to read the full text. The faces have changed on the Historical Commission and the conversations are less raucous, but recognizing black history remains problematic.
Bridges Project’s Monument Group leader Mike Davis made a request that the Historical Commission endorse the county’s provision of a small parcel of land, like on its planned historic trail, for a memorial to the 27 victims of lynching in Marion County identified and documented by the Bridges’ Monument Group.
(Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) claims that there were 30 lynchings in Marion County, however the Bridges team has been unable to account for such a number, and despite repeated requests, EJI has provided no documentation to substantiate its claim of 30 victims. Bridges is sticking with what it can verify.)
Initially, HC member Tom Schmitz, who also has a Facebook webcast called Common Sense, opposed any support. (He makes plain in an interview with me on his webcast on August 23rd – click here to view the webcast – that he opposes all memorials and statues of any kind on public property, and any use of taxpayer resources for them.)
At its most recent meeting on August 14, HC member Paul Skinner, also chairman of the county’s Republican Party, made a motion to reject Bridges’ request for space based on his reading of a statute, adding that if relatives of a lynching victim still living in Marion County came forward to make the request, then it might be reconsidered.
The vote to reject the Bridges request was 3-3 with one abstention; the motion failed. So, the request remains on the table for the Historical Commission to do the right thing … yet.
What will happen next? Let’s say that we shouldn’t have our hopes set too high that the Historical Commission will change its legacy activity in ignoring black history in our community.