How not to pick and choose who to erase from history

If you thought Nevada lawmakers meeting now in Carson City were engaging in petty political correctness by seeking to change the purely ceremonial and entirely vacuous non-holiday of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day, wait till you read what pompous administrators at Yale University are doing.

Roger Kimball, in a brilliantly executed op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal, takes apart the decision at Yale to rename one of its 12 residential colleges to remove the name of 19th century politician, orator, senator, secretary of war, vice president and slave owner John C. Calhoun.

Stained-glass image of John C. Calhoun at Yale

Stained-glass image of John C. Calhoun at Yale

As Kimball points out, once you start down this path of erasing people from history for the crime of doing what was completely normal at their time in history, where do you stop? After all, five other colleges at Yale are named for slave owners. Calhoun’s name is simply the most prominent. He graduated as valedictorian from Yale College in 1804.

Among the criteria for renaming something at Yale is: Does the person’s legacy conflict with the university’s mission and did the person pay a substantial role at Yale?

Kimball then introduces us to the foibles of the university’s namesake: Elihu Yale.

Mr. Yale helped found Yale College with a gift of £800 in books and other goods.

While Calhoun was said to have been kind to his slaves, according to Kimball, Yale was an active slave trader and administrator in India, who flogged his slaves, had a stable boy hanged for horse theft, was removed from his post in India for corruption and never set foot in New Haven.

There are a lot names on a lot of things. Indian fighters Kit Carson and John C. Fremont come quickly to mind.

And don’t let them tell you Carson City is really named after the Carson River, which was named by Fremont for his scout Carson.

Kit Carson with John C. Fremont (Library of Congress)

Kit Carson with John C. Fremont (Library of Congress)

 

 

 

 

 

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