Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Custer's Last Stand?

Custer's Last Stand?
words and photos by C.A. Matthews

The hometown of General George Armstrong Custer is located nearby to where I currently live. Monroe, Michigan, is a small city in Southeastern Michigan just across the Ohio/Michigan line. Custer wasn't born in Michigan, but he grew up in Monroe and met and married his wife, Elizabeth Bacon, there. "Libbie" and her father, a judge, were bigwigs in the community, so Monroe is where she wanted her late husband's statue erected in 1910. That's 34 years after Custer met his fate at the Battle of the Greasy Grass, also known as the Battle of the Little Big Horn. 

The delay from the date of Custer's death to the time of the statue's construction is telling in itself. The fact that the statue was moved not once, but twice within the city says something, too. It was moved in 1923 because of growing auto traffic near the courthouse. The second time the statue was moved was in 1955, during the Civil Rights era. The statue was moved this time because it had almost disappeared behind a wall of unkempt vegetation growing in the Soldiers and Sailors Park, and some townsfolk argued that the statue needed to be seen.  Today it stands at a very busy intersection next to the River Raisin.

The historical plaque beside the sculpture reflects upon Custer's Civil War experience and not his "Indian War" days in the US Calvary. He's wearing his Civil War era uniform, and the horse has all four feet on the ground, as Custer did not die in battle during that war. The fact that the historical plaque doesn't mention his death at the hands of Native Americans hints that perhaps not everyone approved of his later military service in the West or wanted to advertise it. 

Still, it hasn't stopped the controversy and repeated requests to retire the statue, according to locals I spoke with at a recent "Evict Custer" protest organized by Black Lives Matter activists and others.  A Native-led drum and dance group came to share their art. Signs and banners received honks of approval from passers-by. In spite of men like Custer, Native American culture still exists and flourishes on this continent and is appreciated by many.

Monroe residents shared with me how they were indoctrinated from grade school through high school about how great a man General Custer was. There was no way to refute this propaganda, either, according to a Native American woman who told me how she ended up more than a few times in the principal's office for speaking out about Custer's whole history. The public school system of Monroe seems intent of keeping the truth from their pupils and punishing those who know it.

So, why does Custer still stand at the corner of a very busy intersection in the city of Monroe? Is it any coincidence that many area white supremacists seem to be concentrated in this rural part of Southeastern Michigan? Is it any consequence that there's a statue of a soldier who was proud of his record of killing Native Americans located within the borders of Michigan, historic home of the Miami, the Ojibwe, the Potawatomi, and the Kickapoo? A state that currently has eleven (yes, eleven) federally recognized tribal groups/reservations. (http://www.native-languages.org/michigan.htm

I say there's no such thing as coincidence. Every decision (or non-decision) is a deliberate one. Face it--white supremacy exists in small town America. Racists tend to act like a bunch of children sticking out their tongues at Native Americans in general by preserving a statue of a known Indian killer. But there is nothing to be gained except contempt from people of color (and their allies) by keeping Custer's statue standing in Monroe, Michigan, in the year 2020.
Americans on the whole have moved on. Most feel only shame and regret at the horrible treatment our indigenous brothers and sisters have suffered--and still suffer--because of white supremacy. George Armstrong Custer, the poster child of an era full of genocidal actions taken against Native Americans, is no longer thought of as a hero or even a person of interest.

A statue of Christopher Columbus was recently removed from downtown Columbus, Ohio. There have been serious discussions about renaming the city to honor a Native American. Several other cities worldwide have also removed their Columbus statues. Confederate statues of generals and others are coming down faster than rain in some places in the South. Removing Custer from his ten foot tall stone plinth wouldn't stand out particularly in this current atmosphere of ridding our land of unwanted conquerors and unmerciful enslavers. The time to do it is now.

Let this be Custer's last stand. Retire his statue to a museum or assign it to the scrap heap. History should never be bowdlerized or forgotten, but there's no need to glorify genocide or a man who carried it out against a people simply because they spoke a different language and had darker skin than those in power.

Related articles:

What if All US Treaties Were Upheld? 

Christopher Columbus Statue Removed Outside Columbus City Hall

Did You Protest Recently? Your Face Might Be in a Database

List of monuments and memorials removed during George Floyd protests

Strike For Black Lives! 

Solidarity--that's the best way to describe the coming together of many groups and individuals to make a difference, to keep the conversation going on a difficult topic. July 20 was a national day of strikes and protests emphasizing the rights of workers to a living wage, decent protection against the coronavirus, and the right to be treated equally. Toledo area health care workers took it to the street and made their voices heard, shouting: "Black Lives they matter here! What do want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!" And the fight will continue.


Remove the Robert E. Lee monument in Roanoke City and replace it with a lynching memorial

Sign now with a click
It is past time for us to remove a monument that memorializes the Confederate general, Robert E. Lee. Roanoke City should show its citizens of color that this is not a history that we want to commemorate.

As collective awareness grows that these sort of monuments were constructed to send an anti-civil rights message to the community, it has become clear that we need to send a new message today.

We propose that this monument be replaced with a memorial to the Black victims of lynching in Roanoke in the late 1800s.

"William Lavender and Thomas Smith were two black men who were lynched on separate occasions by white mobs in Roanoke. Both men were accused of assaults on white women that were never proved. Neither man stood trial. They were simply captured, beaten, hanged and murdered." - The Roanoke Times.

This piece of our history has been unrecognized and we must reckon with it. This is one simple step we can all take towards building a community in which every citizen can begin to feel equally valued, regardless of their skin color. 

Food & Water Action
The pandemic is making it clear that water access is critical for public health. But utilities continue to shut off water service for many, despite the threat to public health. We all deserve access to water to keep ourselves and our communities safe.

That’s why in May the House — as part of their next stimulus bill called the HEROES Act — passed a national moratorium on water shutoffs and $1.5 billion for low-income water aid. While the bill is imperfect, the water service elements are important and necessary.

We know that Mitch McConnell is drafting his own stimulus bill, and we need to make sure it includes the utility shutoff moratorium and aid from the HEROES Act.

Join us now in urging your senators to support a nationwide moratorium on water shutoffs.

With your help, Food & Water Action worked to stop water service shutoffs in about 700 communities, protecting approximately 240 million people. Unfortunately, at least three statewide and 41 local water moratoriums have already expired. This means that more than 12 million people have lost the protections we helped win. We need to fight for them again.

According to new research from The Guardian, two in five households struggle to pay for water. Black communities face some of the most unaffordable water bills in the country, and shutoff rates are higher in communities of color, as well as rural and low-income areas.

Households facing a water shutoff will struggle to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. They may be unable to protect their families because they will lack one key resource the CDC recommends to prevent or manage the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19): the water needed to to wash their hands frequently.

You’ve joined us in fighting water shutoffs since the beginning of this pandemic. You've probably already contacted your members of Congress on this issue, but we know the more we continue to pressure them, the more they will listen. So let’s keep the pressure up.

We need our federal government to step up and ensure that everyone's access to water is protected. Access to clean water is a human right. Period. We must guarantee access to clean and affordable water for all.

Send your message calling for the federal government to enact a national moratorium on water shutoffs.

Onward together,

Wenonah Hauter
Founder and Executive Director
Food & Water Action and Food & Water Watch

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please feel free to share your thoughts with us. Just one rule: Be polite. This means no profanity or cursing. No shaming or hate speech. No threats or silliness. This is a family friendly blog. Thank you.