Lincoln Library Cancels Exhibition Over Racial Sensitivity Concerns

Historians in the News
tags: racism, Lincoln Library, public history

The exhibition on domestic terrorism had been on tour since 2006 and had previously been displayed at four presidential libraries and museums, including the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas, last year.

But in recent weeks the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Ill., canceled the exhibition’s engagement there, citing concerns from visitors of color who had previewed it and determined that several of the displays were outdated or lacking in context.

“We concluded that updating another institution’s exhibit was not a wise use of our time and resources,” the museum said in a statement.

The exhibit, created by the International Spy Museum in Washington, had been scheduled to open at the Lincoln museum in late March, but the coronavirus scuttled those plans.

The chairman of the museum’s board of directors, Ray LaHood, said that in the weeks before the museum’s July 1 reopening, staff members expressed concern about two aspects of the exhibition: three Ku Klux Klan robes on display and a section about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

The museum invited between 40 and 50 Black community leaders to preview the exhibition, “Spies, Traitors, Saboteurs: Fear and Freedom in America,” in late June and offer feedback, a spokesman, Chris Wills, said.

The comments, Mr. LaHood said, were overwhelmingly negative. “They were clear that this was not the kind of exhibit they wanted to see at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum,” he said. He said the board members concurred and unanimously decided to cancel it.


Kathryn Harris, a Lincoln museum board member who attended a preview, said the way the Klan robes are displayed is unnecessarily jarring. “They hit you in the face as soon as you walk in,” she said. “There’s a warning that says ‘Sensitive Material,’ but ‘Offensive Material’ would have been a better choice of words.”

Ms. Harris also said displays about the Black Panther Party and the internment of Japanese-Americans are one-sided. The Black Panther Party section, she said, discusses the group’s militancy, but not the organization’s tutoring and feeding programs. And she said the internment section omits the fact that Japanese-Americans later received reparations.

Alexis Albion, the curator of special exhibits at the Spy Museum who helped create the show in 2005, said that this was the first time objections had been raised about it. It had previously been displayed at 20 institutions, including the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati.

Read entire article at New York Times

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