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By Zion McThomas

The monument “Lifting the Veil of Ignorance” was sculpted in the early 20th century to commemorate the legacy and work of Booker T. Washington. Located in the center of Tuskegee University’s campus, the monument stands as a marker of shallow racial unity in the midst of the Jim Crow Era. Unveiled seven years after Washington’s death, the project and unveiling of the monument were completed with the collaboration of Black Alabamians, white philanthropists, business owners, and educators. Many people from across the country came to set their eyes on the monument in April of 1922. However, the South’s struggle with segregation, racism and racial violence countered the proposed imagery of the monument that highlighted Washington’s form of racial uplift and at the same time slighted DuBois’ ideas around racial uplift.

The monument is a physical presentation of the complexities of racial politics. This African American monument represents the tenacity of Washington and the Black community as it was partially funded by Black people. It also represents the efforts of white supporters to align themselves with a model of racial uplift that did not demand radical changes to the political system. Even in the design of the monument, which features a young Black man in slave-like clothing having the cloth lifted from his eyes, Washington is presented in a manner that fits his passive ideal of a Black South that thrives in technical and agricultural education. “Lifting the Veil of Ignorance” rides the tightrope of praise and negligence as it pays homage to the Founder of Tuskegee while contorting around the aggressive violence of the Jim Crow Era.

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