Copyright © 2002 AP Online
BOISE, Idaho (August 14, 2002 7:56 p.m. EDT) – Stonemason Mario Hernandez can’t help but hope that Idaho’s new human rights memorial will help the state shed its image as a haven for hate-mongering racists.
“This will make people nicer to each other,” Hernandez said, pointing to his finishing touches on huge slabs of marble inscribed with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. “I’m happy it’s here.”
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Idaho – the longtime home of the Aryan Nations and other white separatist groups – has been planning the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial since 1995. Built by the private Idaho Human Rights Education Center, the memorial will be dedicated Friday.
“The memorial will stand as a statement that a lot of Idahoans have a real commitment to human rights,” said Marilyn Schulder, the former director of the state’s Human Rights Commission. “People can point at this along with the Black History Museum, the Basque Museum and the Hispanic Cultural Center when they talk about our state.”
Others aren’t so sure that a $1.5 million memorial is enough to erase the cross burnings, arson attacks and anti-Semitic graffitti scrawled across Idaho’s past.
“It can’t hurt, but public relations gestures – well, people take them as such,” said James Aho, a sociology professor at Idaho State University and author of two books on racism in Idaho. “I’m not saying this memorial is bad at all. It’s just that we don’t learn our lessons that easily.”
The state’s reputation has become a standing joke, he said, aggravated by intense media coverage of hate groups during their peak in the 1980s.
“People Magazine, Time and Newsweek brought in reporters and did articles about what was going on in Idaho, and major TV networks did docudramas about hate in Idaho,” Aho said. “You tell people that enough, and it’s imprinted, even though it’s not completely justified.”
The push for a permanent memorial began after 50,000 people visited an Anne Frank exhibit here seven years ago. The plan evolved into a broader look at human rights and gained the support of Idaho children, who collected thousands of pennies, and philanthropist Greg Carr, who donated $500,000.
The statue of Anne Frank stands inside a replica of the attic where the Jewish teenager hid from the Nazis. The statue is surrounded by three reflecting pools, an amphitheater and a wall of travertine marble bearing 60 quotes from inspirational figures from around the world.
Carr believes Idaho’s reputation is not as negative as many fear.
Idaho has scored recent victories in the fight against racism. Two years ago, the Aryan Nations was bankrupted after being forced to pay a mother and son for assaulting them outside its Hayden Lake compound.
Carr bought the 20-acre site, razed the buildings and donated it to the North Idaho College Foundation. Vincent Bertollini, the financial benefactor of ailing founder Richard Butler, has been forced to leave the country after running into trouble with the law.
Aho said the memorial is a step in the right direction, not a solution. He said hate groups that were so visible in the mid-1980s have just gone underground.