Reporter Megan Gray’s recent article (“Portland Museum of Art seeks city approval to tear down former Children’s Museum,” Sept. 9) cites a letter from the Portland Museum of Art’s director, Mark Bessire, invoking the legacy of Jim Crow to support his museum’s request to remove the former Children’s Museum’s historic designation – so the building can be demolished.

According to Bessire, “Our region is one that is striving to become more inclusive, dynamic, and diverse – a city where everyone belongs – and some architecture styles can carry unfortunate legacies of the past into the future that undermine these values and goals.”Preserving history isn’t a valid rationale for retaining Confederate monuments. Nor should we keep military bases or federal buildings named for Confederate or Jim Crow leaders. But Bessire’s argument goes well beyond such a standard to imply that any building reflecting architectural styles of the pre-1964 era – even in a state far from the center of legalized Jim Crow – deserves no historical protection.

That doesn’t sound like an honest attempt to reckon with the racism in America’s past. Instead, it seems to be a cynical effort to exploit contemporary cultural mores to serve the Museum of Art’s short-term economic interests – while simultaneously undermining the very concept of historical preservation.

KC Johnson
professor of U.S. history, Brooklyn CollegeScarborough

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