Mascots, Myths, Monuments, and Memory

Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. Statue of Thomas Jackson Standing. Stereo Photonegative.

Saturday, March 3, 2018
Oprah Winfrey Theater | National Museum of African American History and Culture

A number of strands in contemporary politics turn on the need, sometimes the demand, for recognition. The need, it can be argued, is one of the driving forces behind nationalist movements in politics…. Nonrecognition or misrecognition can inflict harm, can be a form of oppression, imprisoning someone in a false, distorted, and reduced mode of being. – Charles Taylor, The Politics of Recognition

In light of events such as the demonstrations at Charlottesville, the controversy over the name of the Washington, DC football team and the debate over the fate of Confederate statues, the Smithsonian has organized a national symposium that explores the politics of memory and the conflicting interpretations of America’s past. The symposium, Mascots, Myths, Monuments and Memory, will examine the history and contested memory of racialized mascots, Civil War monuments, and other public memorials.

Hosted by the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the symposium will bring together scholars, activists, elected officials, artists, and other stakeholders, such as Ibram X. Kendi, Bree Newsome, and the Honorable Mitchell J. Landrieu, Mayor of New Orleans, to examine the social and psychological impacts on affected communities in the United States and around the world.


Joining us from afar? Participate in our live social conversation using #ANationsStory and watch the program live on Facebook!

Program Schedule

10:00 AM

Screening: More Than a Word Trailer

More Than a Word Trailer

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10:15-11:45 AM – Contested Symbols in Sports and American Culture

Why were racist mascots selected to represent American sports teams? Who is invested in holding on to them? How are communities recognized or misrecognized historically? Who stands to gain from the misrecognition of others?

  • Kevin Gover (Pawnee), Director, National Museum of the American Indian, @SmithsonianNMAI
  • Ray Halbritter (Oneida), CEO and Nation Representative for the Oneida Nation Enterprises
  • Jennifer Guiliano, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, @JenGuiliano
  • Mike Wise, Sportswriter, ESPN Undefeated, @MikeWiseguy

Moderator: Damion Thomas, Curator of Sports, National Museum of African American History and Culture, @DamionThomas

1:00 PM-1:45 PM – Keynote Address

Ibram X. Kendi, American University, @DrIbram

Kendi, author of Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, delivers the symposium keynote address as he discusses the call for the removal of symbols that mythologize the defeat of the Confederate South at the conclusion of the Civil War.

2:05- 3:30 PM – The Politics of Memory

Artists and activists discuss the impact of 19thth and 20th century racialized symbolism in the 21st century. The conversation will explore a range of responses from removing monuments to systemic racism from view to the renaming of institutions to visually contextualizing the founder of the United States or Confederate War Heroes as the slave-owners they actually were.

  • Bree Newsome, American filmmaker, musician, speaker, and activist, @BreeNewsome
  • Julian Brave Noisecat (Canim Lake Band Tsq'escen), writer and policy analyst,, @350
  • Andrew Demshuk, Assistant Professor of History, American University, @AmericanU

Moderator: Lonnae O’Neal, ESPN The Undefeated, @LonnaeONeal

3:45-5:15 PM – Monuments and Power: Memory vs. History

Panelists will explore questions such as: Who controls history? What is the relationship between memory, power, and identity? What happens when members of society perceive a shift in power as well as challenges to long-held notions of identity? What are the next steps after the removal of historically, culturally insensitive monuments? Who is helped by the renaming of landmarks and institutions? Questions will be posed to academics, mayoral, and community leaders who have presided over communal discussions concerning the removal of monuments.

  • Lonnie Bunch, Founding Director, National Museum of African American History and Culture, @nmaahc
  • Tom Finkelpearl, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, @NYCulture
  • Aaron Bryant, Museum Curator, Chair of the Special Commission to Review Baltimore’s Confederate Monuments

Moderator: Paul Gardullo, National Museum of African American History and Culture

5:20 PM – Closing Remarks