Owatonna, MN Correspondent-John C. Calhoun, the pro-slavery senator and vice-president from the pre-Civil War era, is being eradicated from the history books in some locations, apparently due to his politics. His name has been removed from a building at his alma mater, Yale University. A Minneapolis lake bearing his name for almost two centuries may revert to its original Dakota name, Bde Maka Ska (White Earth Lake), because the area around the lake is sacred to the Dakota people and Calhoun advocated repression of Indian tribes as well as slavery.
On the surface, this seems like political correctness similar to the removal of Confederate symbols such as flags and statues from public buildings and grounds in Southern states. Symbolic but not likely to change racist attitudes. The deeper issue in Minneapolis, and the rest of the country, is the fact that the history of North America is only represented by the history of the white Europeans who settled here and eventually conquered the continent.
Native people lived in North America for millennia before the whites came. Little of their history is acknowledged, let alone known at all. Yes, many landmarks, rivers, lakes, and cities have Native American names, but many more, such as Bde Maka Ska, were eradicated soon after whites took over. Few whites know or understand why those Indian place names came to be, nor are they aware of the long history behind those places. This goes to the root of our racist mindset in this country. Refusal to acknowledge a culture’s history is equivalent to a denial of their existence and a denial of their basic humanity and equality.
Public school history books pay lip service to native cultures in North America and spend most of their pages aggrandizing the exploits of white settlers and forebears. The fact that the U.S. government committed near genocide on native tribes is minimized if it is mentioned at all. Politically correct gestures such as renaming lakes or buildings seem meaningless, but at least they are a small admission of guilt that we who wrote the history of North America ignored the history of the people we conquered.
Prescott Valley, AZ Correspondent-Removing names of historical figures from public buildings and landmarks is not the way to adequately compensate for the negative aspects of American history. Ridding a building or landmark of a name is the easy way to explain away historical significance as well as mask it from current and future generations.
When leftists and other groups of people are convinced that the country is hopelessly racist, they will take out their hatefulness, animosity and revenge on any name that they believe is racially connected to the past or present and will demand it be removed, estroyed and thrown in the trash bin of history never to be exhumed.
Altering history for leftist purposes and destroying the heritage of a country, good or bad, is not the way to help any cause, whether for the black community or for a more perverse agenda that involves instituting wholesale destruction of all links to the past in order to pave the way for a future molded by creating a new rule of law with its own history.
This whole idea of removing names from buildings, landmarks, streets, cemeteries and other places because of the objections of one person or a small fraction of people doesn’t follow any logical process other than the angry reactions of a few that lack true historical perspective and common sense approaches.
No one has a right to remove historical names because of differing opinions or by crying racism where none exists. Only the majority of American citizenry should have the right to determine whether a name, statue or monument remains in place in a particular community. There are plenty of names in more recent history that represents questionable racial views and no one in any community is going after their names and removing them from buildings, so a double standard on what constitutes racism is always going to be part of the equation.
The past cannot be undone, and the removal of historical names will not change the attitudes of those in the present. Many historical names associated with the Civil War were brave and courageous individuals who fought for their beliefs in a time that many today could not possibly fathom or imagine.
Should we change and reassign new identities to every name on a structure because it somehow relates to the “Old South” or other areas where so-called racism has occurred? The list would be endless and could include removal of names associated with current so-called civil rights leaders or names associated with other wars and conflicts.
What about German, Japanese or Italian names or any other foreign name that has been connected with world conflicts or domestic terror, or even a 16 foot statue in Seattle, Washington of Lenin the Communist leader who created the Russian secret police and acted in a racist manner by starving peasants to death, but has anyone in that community blatantly called for the removal of the 16 foot structure? There may have been some petty vandalism, but the statue still stands and the Lenin name is still there.
No compensation can be gained from removing names from buildings other than furthering the agenda of a few who want to change the face of American history and accuse those from a bygone era of acts of racism. Is it the control or the smug satisfaction that they are furthering their agenda of destroying history? The left doesn’t want anyone to learn from the past as they want to rewrite the past in their own image.
Whether anyone likes it or not, history is what it is and those opposing it need to abandon what they cannot understand. History cannot be altered by removing someone’s name from a building, and those trying to whitewash history have ignored the fact that historical figures from 150 years ago lived under different circumstances.
Leftists and hate mongers fail to realize that people that lived through the Civil War made contributions in spite of flaws and failures, and those alive today need to learn from what these people accomplished, good or bad. America is what it is because of our history and to erase a name from a building is to deny the strength of those who lived through perilous times and created history. Their history must be acknowledged and dealt with in a rational way and removing their names won’t do it.
Gastonia, NC Correspondent– Removing traces of racist people and practices from public adoration is, to me, not a matter of “making up” for past injustices. That can’t be done, and we need to stop trying to do so. Slavery was a heinous, unforgivable, brutal institution, and the injustices visited upon blacks and other minorities in the years after the Civil War were frequently so monstrous that they barely bear description, much less any sort of modern-day mitigation. It was a brutal time in our nation’s history, when a select few decided that another select few were not fully human, and didn’t deserve the kind of basic rights granted to all Americans by the Constitution.
Putting away statues of Confederate generals and taking the names of known racists off University buildings is very much akin to an alcoholic getting all the booze out of his house. Prejudice is addictive. It gives the insecure and damaged an easy way to feel superior to others without having to look any farther than skin color. If you can see someone’s face and automatically assume he’s not as good as you, that keeps you from having to look at yourself too closely and seeing your own flaws.
Don’t believe me? Pull off the hoods at the next KKK rally. What you’ll find under there is hardly the cream of the crop when it comes to society. Here in North Carolina, there are still a number of good ol’ boys who take pride in blazing around town with Confederate flags jammed in their truck beds. I’ve met quite a few of them, and there’s not a Rhodes Scholar in the bunch. We all have a genetic desire to feel better than those around us, to excel and to be above the crowd. The danger comes when we decide as a group to simply give one fraction of us a free pass up the ladder.
2 thoughts on “Does removing names of racist historical figures from public buildings and landmarks adequately compensate for the negative aspects of America’s history?”
What other nation allows the symbols and names of the leaders of a failed rebellion or secession to be publicly honored? Certainly many Southerners fought valiantly, mostly to resist the depredations of a foreign (to them) army coming to steal their livestock, loot and burn their homes, barns and cities, conscript (kidnap) their sons to be forced to aid in the robbery and destruction of their homes, and to rape the women, both white and black, free and slave?
Nevertheless any honoring belongs in museums and history books, not in public memorials.
Gerry, Thank you very much for the response! We appreciate feedback