Reader Response: Lincoln should stay in student union

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Trey Mewes, The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.
·4 min read
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May 3—The Free Press

The vast majority of area respondents to a Free Press online question believe a statue of Abraham Lincoln should stay within Minnesota State University's student union despite concerns over his treatment of the Dakota in Mankato.

Out of 243 total respondents, 230 voters — almost 95% — said the statue of Lincoln should stay within Centennial Student Union inside MSU and shouldn't be moved to another spot on campus. Only 13 voters disagreed.

A committee of university faculty presented recommendations to the campus community last week regarding the future of the statue. The committee is advocating for more comprehensive education around Lincoln's impact to be included with the 7-foot-tall statue of the country's 16th president. They also recommend possibly putting it in a less prominent place.

The Lincoln statue, which was donated to the school by alumni in 1925, was identified this year as a monument of concern by the Campus Buildings and Landmarks team because Lincoln approved the hanging of the 38 Dakota men in Mankato following the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.

The team was tasked by MSU President Richard Davenport to review the names of buildings and landmarks on campus last fall. Davenport made the decision to examine the names after several campus deans reached out and expressed a desire to study the issue. College leaders across the country were taking steps to remove monuments and names of controversial figures from other campuses.

Discussions around how the Lincoln statue fits in the context of a more diverse society has a long history at MSU, but this is the first time university officials have taken steps to address it.

Indigenous students and allies have brought forward requests to the University Senate and administrators over the years to remove the statue because of Lincoln's role in the Dakota War.

The Campus Buildings and Landmarks team held a focus group this year with underrepresented students on campus, including Indigenous students, to get feedback on the statue and what students would like to see.

They talked about wanting the statue moved to a more archival location such as the library where it can be a place of reflection and education about Lincoln, including the harm he caused various communities. They also talked about removing the statue or adding others of more diverse figures to help be more representative of the student population.

Lincoln has a complex history. He is considered one of the greatest presidents in U.S. history because of his role in abolishing slavery, but he also played a significant part in the hanging of 38 Dakota men in Mankato by approving their death sentences. A rushed mass trial of Dakota warriors was held following the Dakota War, resulting in a military commission sentencing 303 Dakota men to death. Lincoln reviewed the sentencing and commuted the death sentences of 264 men.

Most commenters wanted the statue to stay inside MSU. Many said they were concerned about attempts to change the historical conversation around Lincoln's accomplishments, while critics pointed out such changes add context to historical records.

"Just what is wrong with Abe Lincoln? Leave him alone. (He) did more for African Americans than any other president," Gary Lindsay wrote. "Also, I am tired of all the whining of the younger generation. History is what it is."

Rick Pyzick wrote, "Would everyone quit trying to change history Quit griping and learn about our history so you know how to prevent it happening now."

Nancy Zwickey wrote, "For those of us who remember Abe standing guard in Old Main on the lower campus, he's a bit of a reminder of a long time ago when we were students. Nostalgia. Certainly, if the majority of the current students and faculty are offended by his presence, then I imagine he will have to go. Perhaps whomever secreted away the marker 'Here were hanged 38 Indians' can sneak in and capture him in the night, and we'll never know where he has gone, just like the marker."

"History is just that history. I don't believe there is any attempt to rewrite anything," William Kastens wrote. "I do believe we have hidden truths from Americans, by not telling the whole story. There is good and some not so good things that have happened in our history. You cannot ignore either the good or bad. The intent is to learn from our mistakes. Changing location on Abe does nothing. Teaching who he was both good and bad is what history is. Ignoring our mistakes or denying they ever existed, is why we are where we are at now with some of the extremists right and left."

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