“how about leaving the past alone?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

re:

Yale Will Drop John Calhoun’s Name From Building

The New York Times

February 11, 2017

 

 

The article indicates that on February 11, Yale University announced — after years of debate — that it would change the name of one its residential colleges named after former U.S. senator and vice president John C. Calhoun. Calhoun, a nineteenth century Yale alumnus, was an ardent supporter of slavery.

The school is renaming Calhoun College after trailblazing computer scientist Grace Murray Hopper.

The “controversy over former Vice President John C. Calhoun’s legacy that had simmered for years and boiled over with campus protests in 2015,” the article noted.

“We have a strong presumption against renaming buildings on this campus,” Yale president Peter Salovey announced. “I have been concerned all along and remain concerned that we don’t do things that erase history. So renamings are going to be exceptional.”

Salovey said the case was exceptional because Calhoun’s principal legacy is at odds with the university’s values and mission.

 

 

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A question.

How is it decided which cases are exceptional?

How about paragons of civic virtue such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. They both were SLAVE OWNERS.

Yes, one might say (whether rightly is another matter), but Calhoun was WORSE.

True, it seems. But, according to “Ten Facts About Washington & Slavery,” a posting on a website maintained by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association

http://www.mountvernon.org/george-washington/slavery/ten-facts-about-washington-slavery/

Sources offer differing insight into Washington’s behavior as a slave owner. On one end of the spectrum, Richard Parkinson, an Englishman who lived near Mount Vernon, once reported that “it was the sense of all his [Washington’s] neighbors that he treated [his slaves] with more severity than any other man.” Conversely, a foreign visitor traveling in America once recorded that George Washington dealt with his slaves “far more humanely than do his fellow citizens of Virginia.” What is clear is that Washington frequently utilized harsh punishment against the enslaved population, including whippings and the threat of particularly taxing work assignments. Perhaps most severely, Washington could sell a slave to a buyer in the West Indies, ensuring that the person would never see their family or friends at Mount Vernon again. Washington conducted such sales on several occasions.

Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland was founded with the support of George Washington himself. Should the school change its name? Where is the campus outrage over his slaveholding past?

Then we have Washington University in St. Louis, which was named after George Washington, and The George Washington University in Washington, DC.

What about the city itself? To ensure that no one is offended, should we change the name of our nation’s capitol from Washington to a “generic,” anodyne name such as Capitol City? A bland name with no emotional connotation. One hundred percent guaranteed not to offend. Protest proof!

 

 

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The past is the past. With all its glories. And all its horrors. May I make a suggestion? How about leaving the past alone? We should not try to alter it, historically speaking, nor erase from public memory the names of persons who played a prominent part in history, whether for good or for bad.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

     February 2017

 

 

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Addendum:

 

     — Of all the southern statesmen, we most admire Mr. Calhoun (barring certain items of opinion–not of much importance, however). He has an uprightness, an absence of trickery in politics, in his make. Without verging the least bit on rudeness of favoritism, he is “a plain blunt man that loves his friends.” He has a way, too, of amplifying and generalizing–a way that our politicians would do passing well to get in, all of them. He has a way of reducing things to first principles–by tests of right and constitutional correctness. Then he is sincere, above-board, not swayable by fear, selfishness, or favor. He is an honest politician.

— Walt Whitman, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, December 10, 1846

About Roger W. Smith

Roger W. Smith is a writer and independent scholar based in New York City. His experience includes freelance writing and editing, business writing, book reviewing, and the teaching of writing and literature as an adjunct professor. Mr. Smith's interests include personal essays and opinion pieces; American and world literature; culture, especially books and reading; current issues that involve social, moral, and philosophical views; and experiences of daily living from a ground level perspective. He hosts separate websites devoted to the authors Theodore Dreiser and Pitirim A. Sorokin and to classical music as well as family history/genealogy.
This entry was posted in personal views of Roger W. Smith, political correctness (PC) and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to “how about leaving the past alone?”

  1. gsmilnor says:

    Interesting piece, Roger.

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