A lot of smoke being blown about the Confederate flag seems to have set off a fever in this country that is more than a little worrisome to me. Take it off government buildings? Yes. But now, there’s a bunch of folk who want to wipe out other public displays - too many public displays - of too many things they find “disturbing” to their sensitivities. Seems a bit like overkill. The State of Idaho is dealing with such a case.
The old Ada County Courthouse, owned by the State has leased portions to the Idaho Supreme Court and the University of Idaho College of Law. Uof I wants a Boise campus for its Moscow-based law school since Boise is the state capitol and, not surprisingly, the Idaho Supreme Court is there. Along with its attendant excellent law library. So far, so good.
Except someone an overdeveloped sense of “correctness” - apparently at Uof I and possibly inspired somewhat by efforts to take Confederate flags off public property - is pushing that “correctness” a shade too far.
Let’s step back for some history here. The old court house was built in the late 1920's and was functional for a long time; beautifully designed, sturdy, well-built and located across the street from the State Capitol. It served very well until the ‘90's when a new court house was built on 14 acres several blocks away. Eventually, the State of Idaho bought the old landmark and struggled for some time to find a suitable use for it. Recently, along came a Boise law school campus and the rest is history.
More history. In 1935, the Works Progress Administration was created as part of the Roosevelt administration’s “New Deal” to put people back to work in post-depression era days. WPA it was called. Between 1935 and 1943, more than eight million Americans worked under WPA, building bridges and highways, water and sewer plants, airports, dams and other public projects. Also, the arts. Music was composed by WPA musicians. Poetry and books were published under WPA. And art. Lots of public art for many public buildings.
It’s here - at the old Ada County Court House - where WPA and the State of Idaho intersected. Works of WPA art were commissioned for interior walls. It was wisely and appropriately decided those paintings would depict Idaho history. The good, bad and ugly. And they do. Large colorful paintings based on real events or - with some artistic license - depictions of life-in-general in Idaho’s early years.
Two scenes depict lynching of a Native American. Of which there were some, I’m sure, in darker parts of Gem State history. Other states, too. But, with UofI preparing to occupy a major portion of the court house, someone decided these two panels, having been there for more than 60 years, had to come down or be covered from public and law student eyes. As we used to do with nudity.
After a lot of justifiable public fuss, fuming and oral outrage from preservationists, a deal was struck. The murals would stay. But they’d be covered “temporarily” until a decision can be reached “long term.” Whatever that means. And “decision” by whom? And on what basis?
Which that brings us back to the flag. Should Confederate flags be removed from general public display and retired to museums or other suitable representations of Civil War remembrance? Certainly. It flat out represents slavery in all its forms and all that means to the shame of an entire country. And those statues of Southern historic figures, too? “Out! OUT,” they cry. Banished. Loud voices want things burned, buried or otherwise dumped in the dust bin of history.
Mine is not one of them. History is history. State’s rights are history. Slavery is history. Indian lynching in Idaho is history. And Oregon. And Washington. And Wyoming. And Colorado. And on and on and on. Legitimate history. As are the ruins of World War II Japanese-American internment camps. Shameful history. But our history, too.
We’re big boys and girls. We’ve all had a history class or two. We know, however noble and high-spoken our national goals and efforts are, we’ve committed terrible atrocities and run over more than a few people in our national aging. Slavery? Certainly. But can you say “internment camps?” Can you say “abridging guaranteed rights of citizenship” in the guise of “national security? Can you say “police brutality?”
Banishment of representations of our national history is wrong. We are who we are. And we got where we are by means fair and foul. We’re dedicated, honorable, well–meaning, patriotic, gutsy and proud. We’ve also been arrogant, shameful, deceitful, murderous, dishonest and cruel. We’re all of these things. And, a whole lot more.
Rather than fill the air with platitudes, breast-beating and knee-jerk reactions to the parts of us - or the symbols of those parts - we find shameful and criminal, we need to honestly reassess where we are and who we are. We need to examine the totality of being an American, then decide how we honestly want to represent what that means.
In a true, historical sense, these are “baby-and-bath-water” situations. A great deal of care needs be taken to see we do right by ourselves. And right ain’t always nice. Or “correct.”