Editorial Roundup: Review of historic markers should be ongoing effort

Published 8:50 pm Thursday, December 30, 2021

Historical markers tell stories about different communities and areas of the state in a way that can’t easily be done in another form.

Minnesota has long had a historical marker program and, like other states, a majority of those markers were created and placed many decades ago. Markers have largely been created by those in power and history is sometimes skewed.

That’s why it’s important to reevaluate historical markers and change them up if a more balanced story needs to be told.

That’s the idea behind a national effort by the Birmingham, Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative that has installed dozens of markers, mostly in the South, to remember racial terror lynchings.

While there were fewer lynchings in Minnesota, plenty of markers either ignore the contribution of people of color or are simply racially insensitive in current times.

Minnesota doesn’t have a great abundance of markers or landmarks recognizing Black or other minority cultures. The state has only one African American National Historic Landmark certified by the National Park Service — Pilgrim Baptist Church in St. Paul, the oldest Black church in Minnesota.

When it comes to historical markers, many are understandably focused on the early settlement of the state. Many mention American Indians who were in the area, and those references can be racist or trivialize the suffering Indigenous people suffered from white settlers.

Many markers need no change as they simply mark the location of a former settlement or church, ferry crossing or trading post. But others could benefit from an update.

The Minnesota Historical Society and county historical societies in our region have worked to better tell the story of the bloody U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, which unfolded in several area counties.

And Mankato has worked with the Dakota to erect markers — such as those in Reconciliation Park — that honor the 38 Dakota who were hanged in Mankato and to recognize the ongoing reconciliation effort.

Historical societies and cities around the state could benefit from taking a closer look at markers in their communities. Historical markers educate the public and they can help tell a more balanced story of race and history.

Mankato Free Press, Dec. 28

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Editorials from newspapers around the state of Minnesota.

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