If we’re being honest with ourselves it’s only fair to admit that, at the end of the day, the National Archives are big snooze. Having lived in Washington, DC for nearly half a decade I made a solid two and a half attempts to make it through the Archives and appreciate the pieces of our nation’s history that are preserved there (I say half because once I didn’t even make it through the front door). But, and no offense meant to the Archives here, there’s only so much time one can expect to spend looking down at a lot of faded pieces of parchment that are apparently the Magna Carta or the Declaration of Independence or whatever, before your eyes get tired and you need to get out of the temperature controlled rooms to feel warm and alive again.
Regardless of the general lack of excitement reverberating through their halls however, I’m glad the National Archives exists because no matter how boring it may be at times, it documents in truth the history of our country, which is incredibly important and, as the Archives states in their own mission, access to the Archives allows “Americans to claim their rights of citizenship, hold their government accountable, and understand their history so they can participate more effectively in their government.”
Or at least it did, before they decided to start altering historically significant photographs in an effort “not to engage in current political controversy.” Which is how Miriam Kleiman, a spokesperson for the Archives put it when news surfaced that federal agency altered a picture of the 2017 Women’s March to remove the words ‘vagina’ and ‘pussy’ from protest signs, as well as altering signs that were critical of Donald Trump.
The photograph in question is one that welcomes visitors to the ‘Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote’ exhibit, currently on display. “In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote highlights the relentless struggle of diverse activists throughout U.S. history to secure voting rights for all American women.” reads a press release for the exhibit. Censoring the words of activists before an exhibit meant to celebrate them is, I’ll admit, a bold choice made on behalf of the Archives.
Two of the signs in question, those being critical of the 45th President of the United States, initially read “God Hates Trump” and “Trump & GOP Hands Off Women” now read “God Hates” and “GOP Hates Women” respectively.
Apparently the National Archives believes “God Hates” to be a less politically controversial message than “God Hates Trump” which, to be fair, is probably a sentiment that would be echoed by most congressional Republicans. If not in words than certainly in actions. And while arguably “GOP Hates Women” is still effectively true, removing Trump’s name is certainly participating in the kind of erasure that prevents us from having a historically accurate documentation of that moment in political history.
Two other signs which initially read, “If my vagina could shoot bullets, it’d be less REGULATED” and “This Pussy Grabs Back” had the words “vagina” and “Pussy” blurred out of them. This was an apparent effort to protect the Archives young visitors from inappropriate language, although in fairness it’s probably true that half of the visitors will have a vagina and the other half should probably be comfortable with knowing that they exist.
“Our mission is to safeguard and provide access to the nation’s most important federal records,” Kleiman, the Archive’s spokes person continued in her statement, “...Modifying the image was an attempt on our part to keep the focus on the records.” Not to be contrarian here, but I’m not sure altering images would be considered safeguarding, and it’s kind of hard to focus on the records when they’re blurred, is all I’m saying.
For their part, Getty, who licensed the image has said they are still determining whether or not the alterations made by the Archives are approved. So, not only is this federal agency censoring American political history, it’s potentially not even doing it the right way. Here’s hoping that Getty gets back to them and makes them return the image to its original state, or, you know, they made the decision on their own and stand by the mission they were established on.