Nov. 04, 2021
When I was first appointed to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in 2019 by then-Speaker Mike Turzai, I could not have been more proud or excited to take on this task for my fellow legislators.
Not only do I love Pennsylvania and its deep history of contributions to this country, but I also respect the need to preserve Pennsylvania’s history through thoughtful consideration and an accurate portrayal of how we were and why we continue to be called the Keystone State.
While many may not know the day-to-day work of the commission, many do recognize our most public work—the placement of blue historical markers to commemorate, explain, or honor some event, location, or person significant to Pennsylvania, national, or world history.
For most communities and institutions, having a historical marker is a point of pride and way of telling the world that someone or something significant happened at that location.
However, over the last year, something troubling has been occurring in relation to these points of state and community pride: they are falling victim to revisionist history driven by woke cancel culture.
The problem dates back to 2018 when PHMC began an effort to instill Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Access (DEIA) efforts into the internal operations of the commission, which bled over into a revisionist historical review of markers through the ideological DEIA lens, rather than one dedicated merely to historical significance.
Across Pennsylvania, the woke DEIA revision has caused a number of historical markers to be significantly changed or removed.
At the last meeting where markers were removed, the board responsible for marker determinations decided to remove and replace a marker dedicated to Revolutionary War hero Gen. Anthony Wayne because the marker uses the term “Indian Fighter.”
Another marker at National Aviary at the site of what was Western Penitentiary was removed because it referenced the facility was once used to house Confederate prisoners during the Civil War.
A marker interpreting the naming of Forbes Road was removed because it made note of British General Forbes’s desire to bring “Anglo-Saxon superiority” to the region—a reference not to race, but to British rule which existed at the time of the French and Indian or Seven Years War.
Finally, and most onerously, a marker dedicated to former President Woodrow Wilson’s time as a professor at Bryn Mawr College was removed because the college no longer wished to be associated with President Wilson’s views on race and gender at the time.
The marker itself had no controversial language or insinuations.
My fear is that the commission is becoming less of a true historical arbiter and more of a miniaturized version of George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth that has government officer alter history to fit the convenient narrative of those in charge.
It is also another example of unelected bureaucrat far-left ideologues within the Wolf administration using their positions to implement a belief system they cannot enact through legislative means.
As a student and lover of history, I know that not our collective past includes things we are not proud of today. I respect the role that the debate of historical appropriateness and significance plays in determining our present course of action.
To quote Maya Angelou: “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”
Let me put it another way, if we lack the courage to confront our history as it was lived and deny remembering that which has happened, how can we accurately chart a path for a better tomorrow?
Not all history needs to be celebrated, but it needs to be remembered.
Unfortunately, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, despite my protests is not slowing down.
It is set to hire a full time Marker and Diversity Coordinator who will individually spearhead marker review across Pennsylvania.
This will lead to one person having the power to revise history without accountability, without public input, and without context other than their own biased historical lens.
Our free society has no place for a Ministry of Truth. Government, especially unelected bureaucrats, should play no role in determining what is historically true, what is historically distasteful, and what history should be celebrated.
Rather than have the official arm of the state be the arbiter of history, perhaps it is time for the commission to get out of the marker business entirely and find a way to privatize our historical recognitions.
We are at a cultural inflection point and we must act responsibly to acknowledge who we were, so we can proudly determine who we want to be.
Rep. Parke Wentling represents the 17th District in the Pennsylvania General Assembly comprising of parts of Mercer, Crawford, Erie, and Lawrence Counties.