Should Abe stay? Native students argue it’s time for infamous Lincoln statue on campus to go

Whenever Marilyn Allen walks past the famed statue of Abe Lincoln on campus, a dark thought enters her mind.

“The statue is a reminder that I don’t belong here,” the Minnesota State University, Mankato undergraduate says.

In the wake of social unrest, colleges around the nation are renaming buildings and removing landmarks to be more sensitive to marginalized groups such as Black, Indigenous and people of color.

A similar effort is underway at MNSU with the creation of the Buildings and Landmarks Committee. 

The committee was tasked by President Richard Davenport and Interim Provost Matt Cecil with the purpose of reviewing building names and landmarks on campus that fail to reflect the mission and values of the University. 

Until recently, the University had never conducted a self-assessment of its buildings and landmarks. However, with the removal, relocation, and replacement of public monuments and statues across the nation that served as symbols and reminders of institutional racism, the University thought it was time to do the same.

The committee, although fairly new, has already created a list of impactful recommendations it wishes the University to adhere to within the next year. Among the priorities of that list is a review of the infamous Abraham Lincoln statue located in the Centennial Student Union. 

The statue arrived on campus in 1926 after being gifted by Hiram J. Lloyd and fellow alumni. 

In early years, it was tradition for graduating classes to donate items to the University as a way to commemorate their experience. In 1922, the building that held the items suffered a catastrophic fire, and with it, the items were lost. 

With high hopes of rebuilding after a tragedy, Lloyd and other alumni raised and donated funds to replace the items in 1925. The statue came with the donations and has since resided on campus for almost 100 years. 

Since its time on campus, the statue has been used as a casual place for students to meet up, has endured vandalism, and has even had its head removed many times. The head would find its way to different establishments around town, forcing the University to cement it on. 

According to MNSU Archivist and Project Coordinator of the committee Daardi Mixon, “Some actions, such as his head being removed, was a statement being made about Lincoln and the statue.” 

It became clear over the years that the statue harbors mixed feelings from the Maverick community. Regardless, it has become part of the University’s culture. 

“He [Lincoln and his statue] has quite a legacy,” Mixon says. “It’s one that’s pretty divided.” 

The division stems from what the statue represents for some. For some in the Native American community, it represents bloodshed. 

In 1862, Mankato was the battleground for the U.S.-Dakota war. Thirty-eight Dakota men were hanged in Mankato as a result of the war, making it the largest mass execution in U.S. history. The execution was ordered by then-U.S. President Lincoln, who brought the list down from 303 to 38. 

The effects of it still linger, especially among the Native American students that attend a school located on the grounds where the war took place. 

MNSU doctoral student Alex J. Lucier is one of them.

Lucier has been attending the University since 2010, obtaining both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees during that time. 

His endeavor to get the statue removed from campus began a few years after he arrived. 

“In either 2014 or 2015, myself and another former student presented to the CSU board to ask if they would remove it,” Lucier says, but their request was denied. 

Upon conducting deeper research on the statue, he learned that it was gifted by alumni.  

“It’s an art piece,” Lucier says. “It’s not some historical monument.” 

He believes that the historical significance of the statue is relatively minor in comparison to the complaints brought forth regarding it. 

“There are some people in the Native community that are against moving it because it’s a part of history,” Lucier begins. “But in my opinion, it has real effects in the present day.” 

When he worked for American Indian Affairs, he led campus tours for prospective students. During which, some students would ask about the relevance of the statue. Most times, Lucier would simply take a different route to avoid the statue and the questions it sparked altogether.  

He did not want the presence of the statue to have a negative impact on the enrollment of prospective Native American students. 

“Just remove it,” Lucier says. “I get that it has sentimental value, but why should that overshadow the negative feelings a marginalized community have with it.” 

MNSU graduate student Mallory Glynn was first confronted by the statue after doing a full walkthrough of the CSU. According to Glynn, her reactions towards it were mixed, but none of which were positive.

“I had family on both sides of the war,” Glynn says. “I don’t stand by either side or what either side did.” 

She refuses to choose a side because, she says, doing so would mean denouncing one side of her family. 

“I can’t warrant that,” Glynn says. “So I agree with Alex in removing it.” 

She believes the statue causes too much trauma for Native American students for it to remain. In her mind, the lack of discussion surrounding the statue makes its existence irrelevant. 

Allen, president of the Native American Association and Pow Wow Committee, also disapproves of the statue’s presence.

“We have a really great Native American program at this school,” Allen says. “For a Native student to miss out on that because they are discouraged by the statue would be heartbreaking.” 

Despite that, she understands why her fellow Native Americans would choose to attend college elsewhere if they had knowledge of the statue and the history linked to the man it memorializes. 

“Imagine walking around your campus and seeing a statue of the man that massacred your people and feeling that hurt every day,” Allen says, speaking from personal experience. 

As a Dakota woman with family members who fought and were lost in the war, the effects of it take a toll on her regardless of how much time has passed.

“Dakota people are still exiled from their homeland in Minnesota,” Allen says, noting a result of the war. 

She says she understands that not everyone shares the same experiences that she and other Native Americans do, but she believes the Maverick community can come together to find common ground.  

MNSU undergraduate student and Vice President of the Pow Wow Committee Clare Carroll says she supports all that has been said by her peers, despite not being Native American herself. 

“As an Irish-American, I don’t share the same history with Lincoln or feel the same emotions that Native students do,” Carroll begins. “But I do believe that the statue should be removed.” 

Carroll says keeping the statue on campus is not worth the emotional pain it causes the Native American community. 

“I don’t think it needs to be here,” she says. “However, if it has to stay, then the whole story needs to be told.” 

Like Glynn, Carroll believes that keeping the statue around with no discussion about the history that surrounds it does a disservice to the Maverick community. 

“I will be graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Indigenous Studies and I’ve learned a lot through my major,” she says. “There is a rich history of Dakota people and other Native Americans here in Minnesota that are never taught but should be.” 

If the statue were to remain, Carroll says she hopes that it can educate rather than offend. 

The committee wishes the same. 

“We identified the Lincoln statue as something we need to take action on in the short term rather than the long term,” says Christopher Corley, MNSU History Professor and member of the committee’s Advisory Team. 

The decision was concurred during a committee meeting back in February.  

The committee offered four recommendations consisting of the continuation of archival research, proposing options for the statue to Academic Affairs, drafting a campus naming and renaming policy, and advocating for wider representation of marginalized communities. 

“We want the diversity of building names and landmarks to represent the diversity of the state,” Corley says. “As for the Lincoln statue, we will be providing recommendations to Academic Affairs about what to do with it.” 

Between now and the end of the semester, the recommendations—which are not yet finalized—will be discussed and reviewed by the committee before being brought to Academic Affairs. 

According to Corley, it is too early to publicly discuss whether the removal of the statue will be an option.

However, along with compiling a list of options, the committee wants to take it a step further. 

In order to add more inclusivity to the University, the committee plans to implement a way for students to not only voice their concerns about building names and landmarks, but to also advocate for an addition of one or the other. 

“Rather than only focusing on the negative requests for removal, the committee discussed the possibility of creating a broader process that includes a request for positive additions,” says Gwen Westerman, MNSU English Professor and member of the committee’s Research Team.

Both Corley and Westerman said that they, along with the rest of the committee, hope to add something new to the University that helps reflect the diversity of its students, faculty and staff. 

“We don’t want to just take the bad away,” Westerman says. “We want to add the good as well.” 

In doing so, the committee hopes the University becomes a place where people of all backgrounds can be heard and feel seen, beginning with the Native American community.

2 thoughts on “Should Abe stay? Native students argue it’s time for infamous Lincoln statue on campus to go

  • March 6, 2021 at 9:48 am
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    Don’t remove the statue! It is part of our countries history! President Lincoln freed the slaves! And, remember, slavery did not originate here. Europe had slavery of people of all colors. Our country fought for the freedom of all!

    Reply
  • March 24, 2021 at 10:58 pm
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    Do we need to reinvent the wheel? There are Lincoln monuments all over the country being discussed. Let the conversation evolve. Together a sensible solution will come to light.

    Reply

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