The call to have a plaque erected near the Lincoln statue on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus has been denied. Chancellor Rebecca Blank vetoed the request, stating she is not open to the idea.
The statue has sat in the heart of the campus for more than a century.
The Associated Students of Madison (ASM) brought the “brutality [of the former president] toward indigenous peoples” to light. The new understanding of many pupils sparked the request from the student government.
The ASM highlighted an incident from 1862. During military tribunals, Lincoln decreed that Sioux prisoners convicted of rape and murder should be executed. However, ultimately he only sentenced 38 out of approximately 300 condemned men to death.
Blank claimed that Lincoln actually played a “restraining role” in the deaths of the 38 men in Dakota. According to Blank, Lincoln refused to pass the suggestion by a territorial governor to execute 350 natives.
Blank believes that remembering history is “incredibly important”, but the Lincoln statue is not there to represent events of 1862; it is there to recognize the work the president did toward bettering education in the US.
“Abe is actually here because he was the person who really created public universities in the states […] in a very real way,” said Blank, according to the Daily Cardinal. “I do not see a reason to prominently label [the killings of natives] on the Lincoln statue.”
However, there was some backlash from students and the ASM.
“We wanted a plaque near Lincoln [so the university] recognize his part in the Dakota 38 massacre,” said ASM chair Katrina Morrison.
It is important to acknowledge his work toward “creating land-grant institutions“, but the university also has a duty to recognize the part he played in the “Dakota 38 massacre”, said Morrison.
“I think that the history is irrefutable. It is clear that he played a huge role in the massacre [..], killing innocent people for no reason.”
Mariah Skenandore, a co-president of the indigenous student organization, Wunk Sheek, was disgusted with the decision to refuse the plaque. She claimed that the verdict exhibits the university’s “continued oppression of marginalized students“.
Despite the slim chances of the judgement being revoked, Wunk Sheek intends to continue defending and fighting for a plaque, said Skenandore.
“If we don’t keep advocating for ourselves, no one is going to advocate for us,” she said.
This is not the first controversy surrounding a Lincoln statue this year. In August, two different Lincoln memorials were vandalised in Chicago. A statue of Lincoln was severely vandalised and burned in the city’s south side, and the memorial near the Capitol building and National Mall was covered in red spray paint.
While Blank maintains that the statue on campus is a daily reminder of the president’s work towards advancing public education; Skenandore claims she is negatively “impacted by [the statue] every day”.