Monday, June 22, 2020

Bush House starts Reassessment of Asahel Bush

Asahel Bush
(Salem Library
Historic Photos)
Hey, here's some mostly good news. A story at Salem Reporter says that Bush House altered a grant application in an interesting way that resulted in winning a grant:
"Last year, when they reviewed our grant, they asked if we were telling a complete story about Asahel Bush, and at that time, they wanted us to address some of the problematic statements he had made," [Director Ross Sutherland] said. "Over the last year, we have been working to understand the issues surrounding museums and white privilege and instructional racism, and other similar issues."....

In its grant proposal, the Bush House team proposed to tell the stories of marginalized Salem community members.

"The idea was: What if museums in Salem had developed around sites that were related to traditionally underrepresented Oregonians? From that idea, we thought we could take these histories and then flesh them out and find out where they actually happened in town," Sutherland said.
It is a little concerning, however, that there's a pivot here, from the "problematic statements" of Asahel Bush to "stories of marginalized Salem community members."

Retrieving the second is important of course, but Asahel Bush himself provided a significant part of the actual mechanism of marginalization, and his agency in that should not be minimized. He had a newspaper, he was an important banker and investor, and exercised a great deal of power here.

Asahel Bush to Matthew Deady,
on the Waldo-Bogel Wedding and Rev. Obed Dickinson,
cited in "Obed Dickinson and the 'Negro Question' in Salem"
Oregon Historical Quarterly, Spring 1991
There is certainly is work to do on "the issues surrounding museums and white privilege and instructional racism," but old man Bush himself was a racist. Even in the context of garden variety racist norms and customs in the middle of the 19th century, Bush was racist. That's the core of the story here, and we need to do less work protecting, even laundering, his legacy and the house, and more work exploring realistically what is the full legacy, warts and all. The pivot from Bush to "community members" looks like it could be a partial dodge and reflective of anxiety that Bush House and Museum could be subject to the same critique and urge toward denaming we are seeing in Eugene around Deady Hall.

Changing out Deady Hall, front page Register-Guard
(Update, June 26th)
Willamette Week reported last week that the Federal Courthouse had also quietly taken down the portrait of Matthew Deady. As we said here a couple of years ago, the history of the Salem Clique needs more attention to slavery and to race. Bush's statements and sentiments are more than merely problematic, and our history of him needs to move beyond the hagiography. We also need more investigation into the businesses and institutions associated with him.

As for community stories, Oregon Black Pioneers are already working on the stories of Black Salemites, and maybe Bush House does not need to lead but instead should take a supporting position on that part of the project. The part that Bush House needs to lead on is the history of Asahel Bush and a self-aware critique of it.

Hopefully the project Bush House is undertaking will be a positive step in that direction. This will be very interesting to follow.


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

(added picture of Bush)

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

(added clip on Deady Hall from RG today)