By Debra Adams Simmons, HISTORY Executive Editor
Whose history is it anyway?
Today, 16 states, the District of Columbia, and at least 130 cities are celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day. More than 30-plus statues honoring Christopher Columbus have been removed since the beginning of sweeping racial reckoning now underway.
Across the United States, statues are being toppled, places named for colonizers, slave owners and white supremacists are being renamed, and the framing in which U.S. history has been taught is being upended. Just last week the Mellon Foundation announced a $250 million investment to revisit who gets honored, pay for new statues that challenge the historical record—and the removal of old ones. (Pictured above, Osage Nation member Olivia Ramirez, 22, in Tulsa.)
Beyond monuments, 88 percent of respondents in a Nat Geo poll last year said understanding history is key to understanding current events. Yet, according to a 2015 study by Pennsylvania State University researchers, only 13 percent of U.S. public school curriculum standards included information about Natives in a post-1900 context, Nat Geo’s Rachel Brown writes.
Our history, warts and all, is getting clearer all the time. Just this summer, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that much of eastern Oklahoma is an Indian reservation. The government had promised the territory as a permanent home for Native American tribes but settlers stole the land that led to the state of Oklahoma. An effort in 1905 to have a Native American-majority state called Sequoyah in present-day eastern Oklahoma was thwarted in Washington, D.C. despite widespread popular support. (Pictured above at left, artist Bobby D. Wilson, a Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota member; at right, Osage elder Herman Mongrain Lookout.)
The idea of Columbus Day has been in direct conflict with the Native truth we understand. Its celebration played down what writer Mark Trahant called the wars and diseases such as smallpox that destroyed the world of American Indians. A study, called “Reclaiming Native Truth,” cited “the biased and revisionist history taught in school” for the lack of knowledge and erasure of Native Americans. It also noted “the effect of limited—or zero—experience with Native peoples.” Underway: A new effort to transform teaching about Native Americans.
It’s about time.
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Instagram photo of the day
United: The chiefs of the five largest Oklahoma tribes pose for a portrait at Will Rogers Park in Oklahoma City. The five chiefs represent an enormous amount of influence, both as leaders of their Native Nations, as well as the de-facto heads of five of the most powerful corporations in Oklahoma.
Today in a minute
Vulnerable: For rural Americans, the politicization of the U.S. Postal Service is particularly worrying. Currently, all Americans enjoy the same price to send a letter or a package. If that universal service ends, and rural service withers, Americans in the countryside realize they will be charged significantly more, Sarah Smarsh writes for Nat Geo.
Removing Wilson: Princeton University took another step to distance itself from its former head—and later U.S. president—Woodrow Wilson. The school announced it was renaming a residential college after alumna Mellody Hobson, a finance expert and major donor, the New York Times reported. Hobson, the co-CEO of Ariel Investments and wife of Star Wars creator George Lucas, will be the first Black woman in the 274-year history of Princeton to have a building named after her. Of Wilson, who segregated the U.S. civil service while president, his “racist thinking and policies make him an inappropriate namesake” for a school that “must stand firmly against racism in all its forms,” the university’s board of trustees said.
An award deferred: 50 years ago, the first Apollo astronauts who landed on the moon received National Geographic’s highest honor. On Thursday, the award was given posthumously to NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, whose precise calculations got them there. Johnson (pictured above in 1962) was unknown to most Americans until the movie Hidden Figures told her story. She broke barriers as she merited more and more responsibility at NASA during the first decade of human spaceflight. “What she had that I think got her through was, she was fearless,” recalled her youngest daughter, Kathy Moore. The agency has named a computational research facility in Virginia after Johnson, who died in February. She was 101.
Rock art: In the sandstone walls of a gorge in Kazakhstan, artists dating back 3,500 years have carved portraits and stories. The images provide a rare glimpse of the progression of peoples up to the 20th century, when shepherds carved images of Soviet equipment. Antonio Ratti writes about the extraordinary chain of life documented in the gorge in Nat Geo’s History magazine. Subscribers can read the story here.
The big takeaway
Where women prosper: A survey of America’s states finds wide variances in five key categories for women—employment, education, maternal mortality, political clout, and physical safety. That plays a huge role in a new measurement of women’s inclusion in society, sense of security, and exposure to discrimination, according to a study in an upcoming National Geographic magazine that was published digitally last week. Here’s a look at a ranking of states on these measures.
Breaking it down: The 2020 U.S. Women, Peace and Security Index shows how the status of women differs from state to state, driven by economic, racial, and ethnic disparities, among other factors. No place comes close to achieving the best possible score—not even the top performers like Massachusetts, Connecticut, or the District of Columbia. In 17 states, less than half of women surveyed feel comfortable walking alone within a mile of their community at night, the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security found. (Below, a list of the top- and bottom-ranked states.)
In a few words
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Warrior Queen: Born a commoner, Lakshmi Bai rose to royalty in the princely state of Jhansi in mid-19th century India. Then she did something legendary, helping lead India’s first war of independence against the British. By some accounts, she became a martyr for a freedom that would take nine decades more to achieve, dying in battle. Alessandra Pagano tells her story for Nat Geo’s History magazine. (Pictured above, a 19th century color engraving of a horse-riding Lakshmi Bai, who was killed in battle against the British).