CNN host Don Lemon thinks that former president Barack Obama should be "front and centre" of Mount Rushmore, but not everyone is happy.

The monument in Black Hills, South Dakota was completed between 1927 and 1941 and currently sports the faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

Talking to co-host Chris Cuomo about the California couple charged with a hate crime for painting over a Black Lives Matter mural, Lemon turned the conversation to Mount Rushmore.

They want to paint over signs and think 'it's our country'. This is the country that we built. Even though a rich diversity of people helped build the country and many of us, meaning ancestors, for free — did not get paid for it. Could not get an education, could not build wealth, and are not on statues, confederate or otherwise, are not on Mount Rushmore. 

I think if they are going to put someone Mount Rushmore, considering the history of the country, the first Black president should be front and centre. 

Cuomo agreed with Lemon that "it’s a more saleable idea than the idea of taking away Founding Fathers". Lemon went on to add:

So what’s wrong with all of us, together, reshaping our country?

The name shouldn't be Mount Rushmore if you talk to Native Americans. It's stolen land. It was only Mount Rushmore for 40 years before they started to carve presidents' faces in it. No-one got any money for that. 

An agreement signed between the United States and the Lakota or Teton Sioux people in 1868 granted the Black Hills to the Native Americans indefinitely, but they were violently seized by the government a decade later after gold was found on the land.

The United States renamed the mountain, which was known as the Six Grandfathers to the Native Americans, after the wealthy investor Charles E. Rushmore and began carving the faces of its former presidents on it to symbolise "the triumph of modern society and democracy".

The Lakota people have refused a settlement valued at $1bn from the US government, with the president of indigenous organisation NDN Collective Nick Tilsen stating earlier this year that: "we won't settle for anything less than the full return of our lands as stipulated by the treaties our nations signed and agreed upon".

Mount Rushmore's legacy is being reassessed in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.

As well as being erected on stolen land, the monument depicts the faces of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, both of whom owned slaves.

The four presidents chosen to appear on Mount Rushmore were picked for their commitment to preserving and expanding the United States.

Lemon is not the first to suggest that further figures should be added to Mount Rushmore.

In 1937, a bill was introduced in Congress to add the head of civil rights campaigner Susan B. Anthony to the sculpture, but federal funding was not granted. Money for the project, which was supposed to depict each of the presidents down to their waists, soon ran out.

In 2016 a rumour spread across social media that Barack Obama's face would be added to Mount Rushmore. This was exposed as a hoax, but some people did begin petitions and hashtags in hopes of adding the 44th president's face to the mountain.

President Trump, who joked in 2017 that his face should be added to the monument, recently gave a speech in front of it.

The Ogala Sioux tribal council had voted to keep Trump away from the mountain over fears that his planned firework display would spark wildfires, but the speech and fireworks went ahead anyway on 4th July, the United States's Independence Day.

Trump supporters reacted furiously to Lemon's comments.

The CNN host's remarks were reported on by far-right news website Breitbart, sparking backlash from Trump supporters.

Trump vowed to defend controversial statues and monuments in the US, claiming in his Mount Rushmore address that a "merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children” is underway.

Trump and his supporters might be reminded that no-one is actually trying to add Obama's face to Mount Rushmore, or "erase history" for that matter, but simply want to acknowledge slavery and the colonisation of native lands and people in the United States as historical fact.

Please log in or register to upvote this article
The Conversation (0)