Letters to the Editor 11/30/17
A WhiteWashed Past
As controversy over Civil War monuments has gripped the nation, the state of Illinois needs to stop whitewashing our own slave-owning past in its official telling of history.
Some of that whitewashing tars some of our most prominent public spaces. In 1918, in a stunning display of political and moral relativism, Illinois officials unveiled on the Illinois State Capitol grounds a beautiful bronze statue of Lincoln and an adjacent one of his nemesis, former U.S. Senator from Illinois Stephen Douglas. In 1935, state leaders thought it fit to literally elevate Douglas further by giving him the most prominent spot on the grounds, from which he now lords over Lincoln.
A few steps away is a sculpture of Pierre Menard, a fur trader-turned-magnate who became Illinois’ first lieutenant governor, who gazes down at a seated Native American. The statue officially is described as Menard trading with the Indian. Among other lucrative endeavors, Menard was an agent of the U.S. government whose job was to shepherd native people through Illinois on their forced marches west. He also owned and charged the government for the ferry necessary for the exiles’ crossing of the Mississippi.
But it’s another aspect of Illinois’ relationship to Menard that perhaps best exemplifies how we sweep under the rug the more sordid aspects of our state’s history. Menard’s mansion is now an official State of Illinois Historic Site. In 1825, Randolph County was home to 99 families who held 109 slaves. Pierre Menard’s family owned nearly a fifth of them.
The 1818 Illinois Constitution, adopted the year Menard was elected, barred the introduction of slavery into the state, with one caveat: Menard and other slave owners could keep their existing human chattel, whose children would be freed, but not before the males turned 21 and the females 18. It was not until 1848, four years after Menard’s death, that the second state constitution abolished slavery altogether.
An 11-minute State Historic Preservation video about Menard and his home does not waste even a few seconds to provide a whiff of the sweat and likely blood under the white paint on his manse. Instead, it mentions that “around 1800 Menard erected a new home appropriate to his standing in the community.” The narrators invite us to “come, explore Pierre Menard’s home, walk back in time and visit the past as the first Lieutenant Governor of Illinois lived it.” Or not.
THE DEMISE OF CURSIVE
The current conversation about cursive handwriting (“A solution to the demise of cursive,” Don Sevener, Nov. 23) reminds my of my own high school time. At the business prep school, we had to learn shorthand aka stenography, and, at the time, we took a stand against having to learn this craft, as the advent of modern Dictaphones – remember, the obsolete devices with the small tapes? – made it absolutely pointless. We had to learn it anyway, and I can still write shorthand, but in the 40 years since, never was able to find any application for this, other than as secret writing code that nobody else can read.
The practical application of cursive predates typewriters and dates back to writing with quills, as lifting the feather of the paper might cause a mess so you do not want to do this unless you really have to. So, for those still using quills, cursive is indispensable. For everybody else it is about as necessary as writing in nordic runes or in cuneiform.
So, I suggest using the time and the money, both of which are in short supply anyway in our schools, to teach the children something constructive like how to balance a checkbook or how to live within your means. It is embarrassing that our politicians are able to unite on something as superfluous as this, while our pensions, the health care system, the schools, the social safety net and our state as a whole are at the verge of total collapse.