December 28, 2003

What's in a Name?

The PC brigade is at it again. The target: schools named after Confederate leaders. Erenestine Harrison, a substitute teacher with a psychology degree, has started a petition drive in Hampton, Virginia, to change the name of Jefferson Davis Middle School. Her reason? "If I were a kid, especially a teenager, I would be ashamed to tell a friend that I went to Jefferson Davis. Basically, those guys fought for slavery. Of course we can argue over the whole history [of the Civil War], but the end result would be black people would have continued to be in slavery."

So we can argue about it, but as an armchair historian, she's already decided anyway. And she's not a kid, especially not a teenager, and I would put money on it that most of the kids didn't even think about it until she brought it up. A black eighth-grader who says she doesn't pay much attention to the petition effort said, "What are they going to name it, Allen Iverson Middle School?" (The NBA bad boy attended the school.) The girl and her mother call the petition ridiculous.

Harrison was originally fighting to change the name of Robert E. Lee Elementary as well, but has apparently dropped that drive after learning that Lee didn't own slaves. Seems a bit inconsisitent to me. After all, Lee was more involved in the actually fighting than Jeff Davis. Lee was the one who accepted the responsibility to attempt to win the war.

There is no mention of what she thinks of Hampton's Merrimack Elementary, named after the Confederate naval vessel that famously fought the Monitor nearby.

At least some people are willing to be more consistent. The Orleans Parish School Board in Louisiana has renamed all the schools that were originally named for anyone who owned slaves. Thus George Washington Elementary is now named after a black surgeon from World War II.

So for the sake of consistency, let's remove all the names of Presidents who owned slaves: Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson, Van Buren, W H Harrison, Tyler, Polk, Taylor, Andrew Johnson, and (surprise!) U S Grant.

But what I really want to see is total consistency. I think that they should start petitions to change the names of any school bearing the name of any signer of the US Constitution. After all, the Constitution, as they signed it, allowed the importing of slaves until 1808 and acknowledged that slaves were less than others, because they only counted a 3/5 of a person. Surely if these men had any real principles, they wold have refused to sign such a document - a document that perpetuated the condition of involuntary servitude. Orleans Parish needs to rename Benjamin Franklin Elementary and Benjamin Franklin High School as well.

But is that really consistency? Let's go one better. We should obliterate the name from any school of anyone who openly held racist views. Well, there go all the 684 public schools named Lincoln. The mind boggles at the other names that would have to be consign the scrap heap.

Posted by david at December 28, 2003 03:44 PM | TrackBack