Although I understand why the board of education would want to rename schools named after figures tied to racism, sexism, and slavery, I agree with Yukina Grady in that they should be more focused on other problems that are much more important. There is still a lot of work to be done on bringing students safely back into a classroom setting, and I believe that spending time arguing on if a school should be renamed is both a waste of time and resources.
How Far Is Too Far When We Judge History by Modern Norms and Standards?
I think that renaming schools named for historical figures is a movement that is highly damaging to our American identity and history. Though I obviously disagree with naming schools after people who are solely famous due to their ties to slavery and racism, people need to weigh the good that people like Abraham Lincoln and George Washington did with the bad. The past was a different time, where people held different beliefs to our own, and to judge past figures with our modern moral standards is ridiculous. In addition to this, nearly any past figure likely had beliefs that many would consider homophobic, racist, sexist, or immoral. For example, MLK was extremely homophobic, and Abraham Lincoln was racist towards African Americans. However, while these shortcomings shouldn’t be ignored, the good both people did for our country far outweighed the bad, so they should by no means be disgraced for their shortcomings, which are small in comparison to the good they did.
We cannot judge the past by today’s standards. It is one thing if the person the school is named after has no historical significance except for being racist, but to my knowledge I do not believe that is the case in most situations. The renaming of Abraham Lincoln High School is utterly ludicrous. He was the leader of the North in the Civil War and he signed the Emancipation Proclamation which freed slaves. I am not saying we should look past people’s faults, but that we should try to view these things in the perspective of the majority of people that were alive at the time. In the next century, people will look at us and say our standards were horrible.
I think it’s important in this situation to understand why the names of those on public buildings were chosen. Were they chosen maliciously because of an express support of slavery and the like, or is it chosen because we as a community consider those people to be an embodiment of our highest ideals. I choose to believe the latter, and think that renaming schools half hazardously is an ill thought out idea. The people of the past had flaws of course, as all humans do, and some of the flaws were of highest magnitude, such as slavery. However, I think we in the modern era too easily disparage the names of the past for their bad actions, and sweep past their numerous accomplishments.
Can we find in human history a leader or hero who is flawless and has always made the correct decision not only in their time, but ours as well. Society’s morals are constantly evolving and changing over time and no person can always be one hundred percent good throughout all periods of time. However, men like Washington and Lincoln did perform acts that had lasting impacts on the country and benefited it greatly. Renaming is not only rescinding the negative aspects of these people, but also in some way the positive ones too. We go to school in the nation Washington founded and Lincoln preserved, but can’t look past the fact that they were still a product of their time. This is not to refute the idea that nothing can be renamed, but when renaming a broader context should be taken into account.
Is Renaming the Most Effective Way to Educate About the Past?
Although I believe people who have committed terrible offenses or participated in institutions that have dehumanized and disadvantaged people are not deserving of the honor of having schools named after them, I do not believe renaming schools is an effective way of educating people on the problems of the past. First and foremost, it is impossible to change what has already happened. We must learn from the heinous actions of our ancestors to build a better society. Renaming a school doesn’t do this; it simply erases a name. A more effective way of making the point that a person’s actions have problems is teaching objectively the hardships people endured due to the decisions of prominent historical figures in schools.
All of these things, although sometimes terrible, are nevertheless, part of our countries history. I see places like Wilmington’s own, “Hugh McCray Park” being re-named, and forgotten by future generations. These places are our past, and like it or not, our past, our nation’s history, was not the prettiest by a long shot. This is why I vote no, we should not rename Schools or public buildings with ties to unjust history. Look at it this way: Each year, students all over the earth learn about the horrors of the Holocaust, World War I, The Civil War, and so many more brutally unjust forces of human nature. Now, although this history, the history of our world, may be broken, sad, and not something you may want to remember, it is, nevertheless, the history of our existence. That is not something we ought to simply cast away, or paint over.