1998, Abraham Lincoln, American, American Archetypal Legend, Balck and White, Chief Crazy Horse, Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Heroes, Individualism, Justice, Legacy, Malcolm Little, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Junior, Mount Rushmore, Narrative, National Parks Department, Native Americans, Non-Violence, Oppression, Rioting, Superman, T.D. Roosevelt, Tax Dollars, Thomas Jefferson, Truth
Any American child who attended school in the 1960’s knew that like Superman, Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and T.D. Roosevelt fought for truth, justice and the American way. We also knew that injuns, that’s pronounced, “Native Americans,” were savages that stood in the way of manifest destiny, progress and civilization. When we played cowboys and indians I wanted to be a cowboy, when we played war I never wanted to be a Nazi and if the game was cops and robbers I seldom wanted to be a robber. Seldom? Well, maybe the larceny in my soul is genetic rather than learned!
The United States of America was the best country in the world and the four faces on Mount Rushmore who lived, breathed and eventually died in the land of the Lord represented what is great about my country. I never made it to Mt. Rushmore as a child. I was thirty-seven before I packed up my family and drove to the mythical monument and by then my, the country’s, and the world’s perspective had shifted some.
My perspective had gone from childish black and white to nuanced and various shades of gray had replaced a lot of red, white and blue. It was from the lips of Malcolm X that I first heard the word history pronounced as, “His story.” Malcolm Little was born the same year as my father and in my youth he was a bogey man who stood in opposition to the calm, collected and pacific Dr. Martin Luther King, junior. As a child living in a middle class, midwest neighborhood for me the civil rights struggle was what I saw on the evening news or heard about on my transistor radio. At less than ten years of age I couldn’t help wondering what all the rioting and destruction was about.
I finally made it to Rushmore in 1998, the year that Chief Crazy Horse’s face first appeared on the Crazy Horse monument. Over the ensuing decades my beloved childhood heroes had been recast as land grabbing, racist opportunist. Native Americans were noble, Christopher Columbus a vector of death and oppression and everything that was simple and straight forward was now nuanced and contradictory.
As Dave Mason sings in, ‘We Just Disagree,’ “There ain’t no good guy, there ain’t no bad guy, there’s only you and me and we just disagree.” In 1998 Crazy Horse was making the news and there was obvious momentum in the sculpting of the grand symbol, Chief Crazy Horse. The project was moving forward, it was proceeding without government funds and the centuries old lies the white man had spread were being challenged on all sides. Truth be told truth is never told but at least multiple perspectives were being delivered.
I returned to Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse today, my third trip to both. Rushmore is still flourishing, “free” and well maintained. “Free” is in quotes because every U.S taxpayer funds Mt. Rushmore. The National Parks system is an integral part of land preservation, cultural dissemination and recreation. I’m a huge fan but it is a behemoth and every time someone says it’s free I want to scream, “Do you know what the word free means?”
Contrast this with Crazy Horse. The progress of the last 17 years is a reduction of what is open to the public and Crazy Horse seems to suffering from a lack of clear direction. What started as an achievement highlighting rugged individualism seems to have devolved into a status quo, not for profit-making while making little progress toward their stated goals.
I find nuance a wonderful thing and the power of government, propaganda and the ability to control a narrative fascinating. Somewhere out there is a balanced perspective on the role of government and who did what to whom but where ever that balanced perspective is it is not in the hallowed halls of Rushmore nor Crazy Horse; no matter how spectacular these monuments may be.