- Glenn Sonnenberg
Musings from the Bunker 7/1/20
TWO UNIVERSITIES MOVE TO REMOVE THE NAMES OF RACISTS
I have written several times now on why any memorials to confederate leaders must be eliminated and their names of should be stricken from all public spaces. But the confederates, traitors to their country and affirmatively fighting to preserve the insidiousness of racism, are the easy case. There are tougher ones, which we must also confront.
Berkeley recently renamed its law school as “Berkeley Law,” expunging the name of “Boalt Hall”: https://news.berkeley.edu/2020/01/30/boalt-hall-denamed/
John Boalt was an anti-Asian racist (for all I know his racism may have been broader—I just don’t know), who supported the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. He contributed nothing particularly noteworthy to society (although his wife contributed generously to the school). It seems an easy case.
A more difficult case was that faced by Princeton University, a private institution, in dealing with the legacy of Woodrow Wilson. Both the School of Public and International Affairs and Wilson College were named for the 28th president. I say this is more difficult because, as most of us know, Wilson contributed to the country in a number of positive ways and, although he acquiesced to the French demands in the Treaty of Versailles, he articulated the Fourteen Points, pushed for establishment of the “League of Nations” (the precursor to the United Nations and not to be confused with the “Justice League”), was a notable early 20th century progressive (pursuant to the definition at the time), and accomplished much positive good. Yet his legacy is tarnished by a racism and sympathy with the “old South” that were antithetical to his times. Wilson grew up in Georgia during the Civil War and Reconstruction.
Princeton’s trustees noted Wilson’s segregationist policies and racism. He segregated multiple federal agencies (after they had been integrated during Reconstruction). The New York Times noted that, Wilson may not have led segregationist efforts, he rationalized segregation as a “strategy to keep racial peace.” He also rejected a proposal to include racial equality as a founding principle in the League of Nations (which was not adopted anyway by the U.S. Senate, leading to the League’s eventual demise).
As a sidelight, Wilson suffered a massive stroke in October 1919, which colored his actions immediately prior and subsequent to that event. From the time of the stroke until he left office, his wife Edith, advised by Colonel House and others, was effectively the first female President of the United States, in practice if not in name.
WHEN SHOULD NAMES BE STRICKEN?—A POSSIBLE METHODOLOGY
There is a national debate unfolding around when it’s right and when not to eliminate a name or remove a piece of public sculpture. But it’s not only a name, but also a depiction. While I think the removal of depictions of Teddy Roosevelt himself is not warranted, the Museum of Natural History probably was right to remove a statue that, while not openly racist, certainly depicted a Black man and a Native American man in positions that appear subservient to the White man on the horse. Sorry, Teddy, but you’ll just have to make due with your statue in the rotunda!
As the debate continues, are there rules that we should employ regarding the inclusion of depictions and names of people throughout our history who may have blemishes (or outright stains!) in their past? There will be a lot of people smarter than I considering where on this slippery slope we draw the line. But while they’re deliberating at institutions around the country, I thought I would offer my own “hierarchy” of removal. Here is a brief proposal:
• Leaders who were traitorous and/or racist in practice and philosophy (Jefferson Davis)—TEAR IT DOWN NOW!
• Racist and furthering perpetuation of slavery (John C. Calhoun, John Tyler, Andrew Johnson)—TEAR IT DOWN NOW!
• Participant in the racism and its perpetuation, through act or omission (any number of Southerners willing to limit extension of slavery to the West but non-abolitionist as to the South)—TEAR IT DOWN NOW!
• Those generally perceived as “good” in some contexts, but actively encouraging or participating in discriminatory practices. This is the difficult category. There are balancing tests here. If fundamentally racist and perpetuating that racism through both thought and deed, I’m not sure how many good works can save your reputation (Woodrow Wilson)—CHANGE THE NAME
• This is a small category of founders who held high ideals, furthering human rights on one level, yet unwilling to take the personal actions to abandon their slaves; basically a product of more backward times. I reserve this category for those who professed change during the revolutionary period and would cut off anyone from the Missouri Compromise of 1820 forward (Thomas Jefferson stays, but not John Dickenson)—KEEP THE STATUES BUT INCREASE EDUCATIONAL EXHIBITS
• Generally a great leader, even advancing the cause of minorities and/or growth of social safety net, who may have possessed anti-semitic or racist views (TR, FDR, Truman, Nixon, Churchill)—KEEP THESE GUYS, EVEN THOSE WE MAY NOT LIKE—BUT PERHAPS IN CERTAIN LOCALES IT IS JUSTIFIED
• Generally great, not known to be racist, took positive actions but part of a society that condoned racism (Eisenhower, Kennedy, Reagan)—GOOD TO STAY
I suspect that, although perhaps not all great, we all belong in this last, flawed, category. And that is what Black lives matter and the reexamination of our criminal justice, educational, social safety net and other systems is all about. In the context of our passive acquiescence to these systems, perhaps none of us deserve a statue…
UPDATE ON THE GARDENS
Our garden is on fuego! The big winners thus far are the dill, which is growing like a week (it is, of course, a weed), the green onions and the jalapenos. The first tiny chiles have appeared.
Then there is Jen Petrovich, who looks at amateurs’ attempts to grow food as mere child’s play. Here is her source of eggs:
A REMEMBRANCE OF WILLIE MAYS
Jerry Lucido recalls a baseball moment prior to his arrival at his new job at UNC-Chapel Hill:
"I was invited by the Morehead Foundation (their distinguished scholarship program) to a game at Candlestick while in SF. One of their grads was running player personnel for the Giants at the time and he invited us into the clubhouse prior to the game. Turns out famous Giant alums were in the clubhouse. There was Orlando Cepeda in a huge panama hat. A guy in player personnel taps me on the shoulder and says, "Jerry, I'd like you to me one of my friends." I turn around and am face-to-face with Willie Mays. He and I chat. He loves North Carolina and paid the tuition for some kids at HBCUs there. Lots of colorful language from Willie, and it was a great conversation. Best part of the story comes from a Giants fan, though. I am in a concession line telling one of the Morehead staffers about going into the clubhouse. The guy standing in front of me turns around and says, "You just met Willie Mays?" I tell him, "Yeah, just a few minutes ago." He says completely straight-faced, "That's like meeting Franklin Delano Roosevelt." Not quite, but not too shabby."
Have a great long weekend,