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Posts Tagged ‘segregation’

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Photo: Amanda Matthews/Prometheus Art Bronze Foundry & Metal Fabrication
A clay model of a statue of Netti Depp, the first woman to be honored with a public monument in Kentucky.

Now that we’re removing statues and other honors for men whose dark side has become obvious (think segregationist president Woodrow Wilson, whose name has been removed from an institution at Princeton), how do we choose who deserves a statue? It’s possible some of the women and minorities we want to honor are known not only for praiseworthy things but also more troubling activities or associations. People are complicated.

Hakim Bishara reports at Hyperallergic, “Next year, Kentucky will raise a public statue of a woman for the first time in its history. The monument will honor Nettie Depp, a Kentucky educator who died in 1932.

“The statue will be unveiled at the Kentucky Capitol on August 21 of 2021, Kentucky’s Lieutenant Governor Jacqueline Coleman announced in a speech on August 5. It will be the first monument honoring a woman on state-owned land.

‘A failure to observe women in places of honor narrows the vision of our youth and reveals a lack of understanding of American history regarding women’s work, sacrifice and the immeasurable and timeless contribution to society’s advancement,’ Coleman said.

“The statue is designed by Amanda Matthews, a sculptor from Lexington, Kentucky, who spent years lobbying state officials for a monument honoring a woman.

“In 2015, Matthews founded the nonprofit the Artemis Initiative to campaign for a monument for Depp upon the recommendation of Kentucky’s Commission on Women. Matthews is Depp’s great-great niece (another distant relative of Depp’s is Kentucky-born actor Johnny Depp, who is her a great-great-nephew).

“Later in 2015, the Kentucky Human Rights Commission backed Matthews’s campaign with a resolution encouraging the state and local governments to erect statues of women of historical significance and outstanding achievements. A year later, Kentucky’s Historic Properties Advisory Commission started reviewing the Artemis Initiative’s proposal for a statue of Depp, and in 2017 it voted unanimously in favor of the monument.

“ ‘My hope is that this sculpture will break through the obstinate norm that has held fast in Kentucky since 1792 and move the needle toward a more inclusive future for women, minorities, and children,’ Matthews told Hyperallergic in an email.

“Last year, Matthews designed a sculpture of Alice Dunnigan for the Seek Museum in Russellville, Kentucky. Dunnigan was an award-winning Kentucky journalist and the first Black woman credentialed to cover the White House. … Presently, along with her sculpture of Depp, she is completing a monument for investigative journalist Nellie Bly, which will be installed next year at New York City’s Roosevelt Island.

“Depp was a Kentucky teacher and principal. In 1913, she became the first woman to be elected as Superintendent of Barren County Schools … During her tenure, Depp built 13 new schoolhouses, repaired 50 others, dug water wells, fought for fair pay for teachers, and promoted stricter enforcement of the Compulsory Education Laws to reduce literacy rates.

“After finishing her four-year term in 1917 (Depp declined to run for a second term), she went on to become principal at Cave City School until 1923. She spent the last decade of her career as a teacher in Scottsville from 1923 to 1931. …

“But there are questions to be raised about Depp’s legacy. As superintendent, she was tasked with overseeing 100 segregated schools across the county. There are no historical records that explicitly show her stances about segregation, and Depp does not appear to have advocated for integration. However, she is believed to have worked to improve learning conditions for Black students. …

“ ‘In the context of Kentucky in 1915, this should not be understated,’ Matthews told Hyperallergic. ‘Barren County Kentucky was located in solidly Confederate territory only a few decades prior. Depp’s public advocacy on [better Black schools] was groundbreaking, and possibly even dangerous.’ …

“However, in 1920, Depp helped write an endorsement for President Woodrow Wilson’s re-election for a third term in her capacity as a member of the Resolutions Committee of the Barren County Democratic Party’s local convention. … Wilson supported the resegregation of federal offices and held virulently white supremacist views, according to historians. In 2015, Princeton University removed his name from its School of Public and International Affairs. …

“ ‘It is honestly a disappointment to me that she publicly endorsed Wilson’s candidacy, but there is evidence that her first and most passionate interest was improved education for all children, and she never wavered on her stance on that,’ Matthews said. …

“ ‘I have no intent or interest to whitewash Depp’s history or that of my ancestors, but I do have an interest in bringing more equity to those who are marginalized,’ said Matthews. ‘Nettie Depp may not have done everything right, but she certainly did some things right.’ ”

More at Hyperallergic, here.

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Who could resist a children’s book called Preaching to the Chickens? Maria Popova at Brainpickings, my favorite source for children’s book recommendations, wrote about it just before Christmas.

Popova said, “Civil rights icon and nonviolent resistance leader John Lewis (b. February 21, 1940) is rightly celebrated as a true ‘healer of the heart of democracy.’ He is also a testament to how the humblest beginnings can produce lives of towering heroism. Long before Congressman Lewis became a key figure in ending racial segregation in America, little John was one of nine siblings living on the family’s farm in southern Alabama. It was in that unlikely environment, heavy with labor and love, that young Lewis found his voice as a leader.

“Writer Jabari Asim and illustrator E.B. Lewis tell the improbable and inspiring origin story of this largehearted legend in Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis. …

“One day, John is put in charge of the chickens and so begins his foray into leadership. His heart ablaze with the dream of becoming a preacher, the boy begins practicing before his willing — or, at least, tacitly agreeable — avian audience. E.B. Lewis’s luminous watercolors are the perfect complement to Asim’s lyrical prose, which together carry the story of how John Lewis incubated his talent for wielding words that move and mobilize mind, body, and spirit.”

Read more at Brainpickings, here. Popova, as usual, suggests other books that would make a good complement to this one.

Art: E.B. Lewis
A young John Lewis hones his oratory.

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