Take down Albany's Racist Symbols

Take down Albany's Racist Symbols

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Nesta Littlejohn started this petition to Mayor Sheehan: 518-434-5100 and

Glossary of racist symbols in Albany, NY (images didn't upload).

  • The statue of Philip Sheridan (at the NYS Capitol)
  • Schuyler Achievement Academy ✅
  • South Africa’s apartheid-era flag (at the Korean War Memorial)
  • Albany’s city flag

On the evening of June 17th, 2015, a white supremacist entered the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and unloaded his handgun, slaying nine black churchgoers.  Only a month prior, the racist, Dylann Roof posted an image on Facebook, depicting himself in a jacket adorned with two flags that represent two now-defunct apartheid-states.  The top flag, which closely resembles Albany’s city flag, belonged to the Union of South Africa - a nation built on white supremacy.  

Symbols act as links between dispersed individuals and other entities such as cities to the broader ideologies these symbols represent.  Dylann Roof, by donning these racist relics, explicitly ties himself to the broader movement of white supremacy.  Cities around the world do as Roof did by taking the performative action of scattering symbols around their urban landscape which link the city to a set of values.  Monumentalizing racists both implicitly and explicitly upholds the ideology of white supremacy, and glorifies a history of white violence which people like Dylann Roof seek to perpetuate.  It is for this reason that Albany’s symbols of racism must be torn down. 

Many so-called liberal northerners live under the illusion that racist and imperialist symbols are a uniquely ‘southern problem.’  However, this façade of superiority cracks when a skeptical gaze is placed on some of Albany’s seemingly unremarkable landmarks.  In Albany, you will find the statue of an anti-Native American bigot who helped bring about their demise on the Great Plains - Philip Sheridan.  As well as a school called the Schuyler Achievement Academy, which was named after the slave owner Philip Schuyler.  Also, the same flag found on Dylann Roof’s jacket can also be found at Albany’s Korean War memorial.  Furthermore, Albany’s city flag, like apartheid South Africa’s flag, is a version of the ‘Prince's Flag,’ which has long been a symbol for Dutch monarchists and right-wing nationalists.

A common strawman defense of racist symbolism is that removing monuments is a ‘whitewashing’ of history.  What those who make these arguments misrepresent is that monuments aren’t annals.  Not all history is created equal.  Cities like Albany choose which interpretation of history to memorialize, the city chose to put the white, racist Philip Schuyler in front of city hall instead of a someone like Stephen Myers.

Philip Sheridan 

Why is it that those who fought against the Confederacy get an automatic pass when it comes to the genocide of North America’s native peoples? Fighting in the Union Army does necessarily make one an anti-racist, nor does it absolve the sin of genocide.  In fact, it was the racist Philip Sheridan’s experiences as a Union General that enabled him to lead a brutal campaign against the natives on the Great Plains.

In the late 19th century, Sheridan led a campaign against the Native American tribes with the goal of pushing them back onto their reservations - this period was known as the Indian Wars.  It is during this time he allegedly coined the aphorism “the only good Indian is a dead Indian.” 

Philip Sheridan was fond of using scorched-earth tactics against the Natives, and justified the murder of women and children by saying the Natives’ “crimes necessitated the attacks.”  One prominent example of this is the massacre of Chief Black Kettle’s tribe in 1868.  Sheridan ordered his troops, led by George Custer, to launch an early-morning surprise attack on the Chief’s encampment, slaying many as they slept.  Black Kettle was considered a peaceful Chief, and his encampment was on reservation land, to begin with. 

Furthermore, Sheridan advocated, then led the extermination of the buffalo on the Great Plains, viewing it as a vital aspect of his mission of controlling the Natives.  Sheridan stated that the goal was to “make them poor by the destruction of their stock.”  The general made hunting the Army’s job and called on American settlers to join in on the extermination.  These starvation tactics eventually worked, and the Great Plains tribes were decimated and corralled into their state-sanctioned reservations.

Schuyler Achievement Academy

At the time of writing this, Mayor Sheehan signed an executive order to take down that statue of Philip Schuyler in front of city hall - but more needs to be done.  The obvious next step is to rename an Albany public school called the Schyler Achievement Academy.  It is now a well-known fact that General Philip Schuyler was Albany’s biggest slave owner, and as Chris Churchill of the Times Union has argued, the fact that a school with his namesake serves a majority-minority neighborhood is regressive and disgraceful. 

The prince’s flag

If Nazi Germany was a wartime ally, would it be appropriate for a nation to sport their flag at one of their memorials? What about the “Blood-Stained Banner” of the Confederacy?  No?  Then why does Albany have a plaque of apartheid South Africa’s flag?  Walk over to Albany’s Korean War memorial on lower Madison ave. to see this flag in all its racist glory.  Recall, the white supremacist Dylan Roof commonly sported this flag which represents the brutal subjugation of native Africans by Dutch and English settlers.  It needs to be removed. 

Perhaps, Albany is comfortable commemorating this flag because it is so similar to our own city flag.  A flag that comes from the old Dutch flag and the flag of the Dutch East India Company - who were notorious slave traders.  The prince’s flag (an orange, white, and blue flag) gradually became less prominent as the Netherlands democratized in the 19th century and its current red, white, and blue flag became the standard.  During this transition, the prince’s flag became associated with right-wing nationalism, and former Dutch colonies began to drop the flag.  Currently, Albany, NYC, and the Bronx are the only former colonies that fly this flag.   

Just in the past century, the prince’s flag reemerged as a symbol of white supremacy and fascism.  In 1937, when the Nazis occupied the Netherlands, it placed the nation’s fascist NSB party in power, and the prince’s flag became associated with Nazism - as that was the flag they proudly flew.  Now, more than ever, the prince’s flag is associated with the far-right racist movement.  The Dutch anti-immigrant PVV party flies this flag as a symbol of the country’s racist roots.  With all of this in mind, Albany should take action to redesign the city’s flag.      

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