Vote 2020 graphic
Everything you need to know about and expect during
the most important election of our lifetimes

If the National Archives Blurs Anti-Trump Speech From Its Exhibits, Is It Really an Archive?

Illustration for article titled If the National Archives Blurs Anti-Trump Speech From Its Exhibits, Is It Really an Archive?
Photo: Mario Tama (Getty Images)

There’s a large 49-by-69-inch photograph in the National Archives Museum in Washington D.C. which celebrates the centennial of women’s suffrage by depicting the massive crowd that filled Pennsylvania Avenue NW for the Women’s March on Jan. 21, 2017, the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration. Viewed from another angle, it shifts to show a 1913 black-and-white image of a women’s suffrage march also on Pennsylvania Avenue linking momentous demonstrations for women’s rights which took place more than a century apart in the same location. The 2017 photo gives museum visitors an idea of how many Americans felt about the Pussy-grabber-in-Chief being elected to the highest office in the nation.

Advertisement

Only, not quite.

The Archives acknowledged in a statement this week that it made multiple alterations to the photo by blurring signs held by marchers in protest that were critical of Trump, the Washington Post reported.

In the original version of the 2017 photograph, taken by Getty Images photographer Mario Tama, the street is packed with marchers carrying a variety of signs, with the Capitol in the background. In the Archives version, at least four of those signs are altered.

A placard that proclaims “God Hates Trump” has “Trump” blotted out so that it reads “God Hates.” A sign that reads “Trump & GOP — Hands Off Women” has the word Trump blurred out.

Signs with messages that referenced women’s anatomy — which were prevalent at the march — are also digitally altered. One that reads “If my vagina could shoot bullets, it’d be less REGULATED” has “vagina” blurred out. And another that says “This Pussy Grabs Back” has the word “Pussy” erased.

Advertisement
Illustration for article titled If the National Archives Blurs Anti-Trump Speech From Its Exhibits, Is It Really an Archive?
Photo: Mario Tama (Getty Images)
Illustration for article titled If the National Archives Blurs Anti-Trump Speech From Its Exhibits, Is It Really an Archive?
Photo: Mario Tama (Getty Images)

The Archives claims the decision to obscure obscenities and anti-Trump speech was made while the exhibit was in development.

“As a non-partisan, non-political federal agency, we blurred references to the President’s name on some posters, so as not to engage in current political controversy,” Archives spokeswoman Miriam Kleiman said in an emailed statement to The Post. “Our mission is to safeguard and provide access to the nation’s most important federal records, and our exhibits are one way in which we connect the American people to those records. Modifying the image was an attempt on our part to keep the focus on the records.”

Advertisement

Okay, but, for the record: Fuck Trump!

Listen, besides the fact that the Archives are apparently fine with a sign that appears to read “God Hates” so long as Trump’s good name isn’t tacked onto it, it just seems strange that they claim it their mission to “safeguard and provide access” to federal records, but choose to omit, what many would argue, are key parts of said record. Why show us the Women’s March but obscure one of the main issues that fed the energy of that day?

Advertisement

The spokespeople also made it a point to note that David S. Ferriero, the archivist of the United States who was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009, participated in talks regarding the exhibit and supports the decision to edit the photo, according to Washington Post. That sounds a little too “I have a friend who has a black friend and he says it’s totally cool” for my tastes, but Kleiman says the images from the 2017 and 1913 marches were presented together “to illustrate the ongoing struggles of women fighting for their interests.”

She added that the National Archives “only alters images in exhibits when they are used as graphic design components.”

Advertisement

“We do not alter images or documents that are displayed as artifacts in exhibitions,” she said. “In this case, the image is part of a promotional display, not an artifact.” But, like myself, many historians remain unmoved by the justification.

“There’s no reason for the National Archives to ever digitally alter a historic photograph,” Rice University historian Douglas Brinkley said. “If they don’t want to use a specific image, then don’t use it. But to confuse the public is reprehensible. The head of the Archives has to very quickly fix this damage. A lot of history is messy, and there’s zero reason why the Archives can’t be upfront about a photo from a women’s march.”

Advertisement

Wendy Kline, a history professor at Purdue University, also weighed in via email saying, “Doctoring a commemorative photograph buys right into the notion that it’s okay to silence women’s voice and actions. It is literally erasing something that was accurately captured on camera. That’s an attempt to erase a powerful message.”

It’s also worth mentioning that Archive officials didn’t respond to a request from The Post to provide examples of previous instances in which the Archives altered a document or photograph so as not to engage in political controversy.

Advertisement

Let me find out this has only been done for 45.

Zack Linly is a poet, performer, freelance writer, blogger and grown man lover of cartoons

Share This Story

Get our newsletter

DISCUSSION

I genuinely hate terms like “non-partisan” and “non-political” because they’re utter nonsense. Removing context from historical images to preserve a sense of “non-partisanship” is such a cowardly position. Everything, including censoring images to not hurt people’s fee-fees, is political.