By K. David Weidner, Ph.D., Executive Director

The past few weeks were incredibly moving to me for a few reasons – I said my final goodbye to my mother — the educator — and her home and possessions of 87 years, and the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Two women, with profound impacts on my life, passed away with dignity and grace. For this article, I will focus on our loss of Justice Ginsburg and what she means to the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum. 

One might ask, ‘what is the connection of RGB to the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum?’ I will tell you – the connection means everything. Her loss to our democracy will forever be felt. She stood and spoke for what our institution is and in what we believe: equality, fairness, transparency, democratic principles and the acceptance of differences.  

I was traveling when Justice Ginsburg passed away, but I made sure my plans included paying my respects to her and thanking her for providing a voice to the voiceless. I was privileged to be able to stand in line with others on a hot Washington, D.C. day in September, at the steps of the Supreme Court, to pay homage to her legacy.

Among many great things, Justice Ginsburg was known for advancing the causes of those who could not do so on their own. Her voice of dissent was heard louder than her voice of agreement. She truly exhibited equal justice under the law and applied her voice in support of issues like gender equality, race relations, LGBTQ and religious beliefs. Not unlike times 400 years ago, when a beleaguered group of passengers aboard the Mayflower accidentally made landfall in today’s Provincetown, Massachusetts on Cape Cod and intentionally formed a compact and promise to each other for a democratic process of self-governance. The Mayflower Pilgrims certainly did not all agree with each other and not all of them were on board fleeing intolerance. Many just wanted a new, different and “free-er” way of life. 

Unfortunately, upon their arrival in Provincetown, they lost the ideals which they so cherished – acceptance and tolerance. Their encounter with the indigenous people on Cape Cod was neither  tolerant nor accepting. On the other hand, the native people shared their beliefs on the earth and the land and helped the strangers, despite the troubles they brought with them.

As we work to uphold a more tolerant and expecting space at the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum, we had to acknowledge that we, ourselves, were not telling the story accurately. We were sharing misinformation in our exhibits, therefore contradicting our institutional ethos. We maintained an exhibit that white-washed the well-documented truth and shamefully misrepresented the history of an entire group of people They needed to be given a voice

Not unlike our departed Supreme Court Justice, we needed to acknowledge and speak for those that could not, like in the Black Lives Matter movement. However, in our case, we needed to empower the indigenous people of the past, the present and of the future that live among us. We owe it to our society to be an exemplar of tolerance and acceptance. We need to be transparent that we were wrong in not telling the truth, and must work toward a continually better future.

Justice Ginsburg authored the truth based upon the facts presented on cases that affected those not in the majority. While I never had the opportunity to personally meet her, what she taught is firmly in our minds as we make our confessions and educate our patrons. Museums need to present unbiased facts. Our new permanent exhibit is curated not by the observers of history who took the liberty of portraying it to their advantage, but by the descendants of the region’s indigenous people who actually lived it. 

It’s the story of challenge and struggle in uncharted times, similar to the situation we are in today, one that I’m hopeful our former Justice would be proud is being told. We must acknowledge our mistakes, correct what is wrong and most important, learn from them. 

I believe that Justice Ginsburg would be pleased that the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum is finding its voice as an institution to affirm and support differences by telling a new story and giving a voice to those who previously did not have one. That voice is finally heard, louder and clearer in our new exhibit – ‘Our Story: The Complicated Relationship of the Indigenous Wampanoag and the Mayflower Pilgrims.’

Thank you, Justice Ginsburg, for being an inspiration to so many and for defending what is truly right.