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10 Reasons Why the Organization of American Historians Want the R-Word Dropped

The Organization of American Historians passed a resolution opposing the use of the R-word by the Washington football team.

On April 29, Jon Butler, president of the Organization of American Historians (OAH), announced that the executive board voted unanimously to pass a resolution supporting the removal of the Washington team name, effective immediately.

The resolution was organized by James W. Loewen, member and lecturer at OAH and author of the books, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your High School History Textbook Got Wrong and Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong.

“This makes it official: the nation's primary group of historians of the United States has spoken and has done so overwhelmingly," he told ICTMN in an email. "The previous vote of the membership, taken on April 18, 2015, was by a margin greater than 90%, while the Board's action was unanimous.”

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Butler, who taught at Yale University for 27 years, said the OAH decided to act on the resolution because “We are a historical organization and our members are overwhelmingly teachers. We want to act in a thoughtful way.”

Former OAH executive director Lee Formwalt, author of Looking Back, Moving Forward, said he was not surprised by the passing of the resolution.

“The members are in the business of examining the past and usually know what the problems were," he said. "They tend to be in favor of change of those problems. We don’t want to go back to the good old days because they weren’t good. I think that race has been a significant issue in America and is our original sin. It doesn't surprise me it occupies the minds of a lot of historians.”

Here are 10 historic reasons for the OAH resolution. Butler said the resolution as well as a statement from the board will appear on the OAH website in about a month:

1. According to historian Alden Vaughan, the first recorded use of the word redskin appeared in a 1699. In the early 18th century, white Americans believed Native Americans were inferior, and subjected them to violence and in the 19th century, red become the universally accepted color label for American Indians, and the word redskin became increasingly negative.

2. On September 24, 1863, after the 1862 Dakota Uprising that resulted in the death of 38 Dakotas, the Winona Daily Republican, wrote, “The state reward for dead Indians has been increased to $200 for every red-skin sent to Purgatory.”

3. Most sports teams that use Native American mascots, symbols, and names, were conceived between 1890 and 1940 when it was believed that Natives were a dying race. Appropriation of Native names and cultures occurred during this time and included the Washington team and the "Improved Order of Red Men," a men’s organization that did not allow American Indians to be members. Eugenics, or the sterilization of Native women, also began during those years. “The appropriation of Native mascots and names reflects the intense racism of that era,” the resolution states.

4. Before it was the Washington NFL franchise, the team was Boston based and adopted "Redskins" as its name and logo. The team was not named for a specific Native individual as they have sometimes claimed, the resolution states.

5. The team was owned by George Marshall, “the most racist owner in the entire NFL, a man who had to be coerced by the federal government to accept a black player after all other teams had desegregated,” who created the “Indian-garbed” Redskins Marching Band and “Hail to the Redskins,” including verses “sung in mock Indian dialect,” according to historian J. Gordon Hylton.

6. In Hitler’s plan for Germany to colonize Russia, and said, “There's only one duty: to Germanize this country by the immigration of Germans, and to look upon the natives as redskins.”

7. The resolution reads, “Historians recognize that no twentieth or twenty-first century Indian has ever served as a mascot, because such a person might wear a business suit or hard hat or clerical collar, depending upon his/her job.” As historian Richard White writes, “Indian mascots are generally invented by whites.”

8. The name leads to absurd images and chants like “scalp the Redskins,” etc.

9. Unlike other groups of people associated with team names, Native Americans are not part of the constituency of the Washington NFL franchise and have no influence over its name.

10. Standard dictionaries have for years recognized "redskin" as discriminatory. “No one uses it as a term of respect or even a neutral noun. We do not say, for example, that there are two "redskins" in Congress; we say "American Indians" or "Native Americans."

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The resolution recalls the daylong symposium on February 7, 2013, at the National Museum of the American Indian concerning the history and current use of Native people, names, and images as sports mascots.

Said Kevin Gover, head of the museum, speaking first at the conference: “We need to bring out the history.”

“Indeed, we, the Organization of American Historians, do. This resolution is a start,” Loewen wrote.

The OAH boasts more than 7,000 members worldwide with scholars of U.S. history from universities all over the country, including Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Michigan University among others.