I wish Jonathan Holloway well.
The 53-year-old educator and historian recently became the president of New Jersey’s flagship university, Rutgers, and said, no, it would not be changing its name.
The school is named for Col. Henry Rutgers, a Revolutionary War hero — and slaveholder.
“We are not going to change the name of the university,” said Hollloway. “Names have value that exceeds someone’s existence.”
The name is not tantamount to the Confederate flag, said Holloway, the first African-American president of the university, and someone aware of the evils of slavery.
Some things, sometimes, can be simultaneously good and bad and we will see if Holloway can stand firm against a sometimes-brainless wave of self-purification that is sweeping the country.
Brainless? Yes, and lawless, too.
Why would statues of abolitionists, such as Marcellus Baldwin, be vandalized, if not brainless? And a monument to Black Civil War troops? And U.S. Grant, the Union general who beat the Confederacy?
Lawless? Any time a self-righteous mob attacks or vandalizes public property — be it Robert E. Lee or Frederick Douglass — it is breaking the law, transforming indignation into indignities.
Statues of Confederate generals and politicians have no place on public thoroughfares, unless… they are there to teach about the traitorous Confederacy rather than honor its leaders.
The other day, U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat, was asked if she would take down monuments to George Washington. Duckworth lost both her legs when she served in the army in Iraq and is being considered as a candidate for vice president. I had the highest regard for her, until she ducked that question, with some jazz about it’s something we should discuss.
No, we do not have to “discuss” whether to tear down the Washington Monument.
I would refer Duckworth to Holloway: “Names have value that exceeds someone’s existence.” Whatever his faults, Washington remains the Father of Our Country. He was an outstanding general, statesman, and leader.
Or I would refer her to Philadelphia lawyer Michael Coard, a leftist firebrand.
When it comes to Washington, Coard gets the lion’s share of the credit for enhancing the skeletal outline of George Washington’s house at 6th & Market, on Independence Mall.
When it was being planned, the National Park Service was challenged by Coard and a group called Avenging The Ancestors Coalition, a broad-based organization of African Americans founded in 2002. It wanted NPS to install a prominent Slavery Memorial at the President’s House to honor the nine African-Americans who were enslaved there.
The NPS resisted at first, but eventually recognized the validity of the demand. “Under the leadership of Cynthia MacLeod, who has been superintendent of Independence National Historical Park since 2007, things have remarkably improved,” Coard told me.
Story boards were added to the structure to tell of the nine slaves. Washington was not deleted — his household was added. The larger picture told a larger truth. It allowed America to look its past in the eye, and understand the truth in its embarrassing totality.
Addition, not subtraction.
Coard is on record as opposing removing the names of slave-owning Americans from schools, statues and monuments. Instead, he believes explanations should be prominently posted. “With rare exception, instead of discarding these memorials to the dust bin of history, I prefer to publicly, conspicuously, and permanently ‘out’ the men in them as the horrifically racist monsters they were.”
This can be done with Washington statues, the Jefferson Memorial, Mount Rushmore, and wherever statuary stands to honor our American heroes. As an example, instead of tearing down Mount Vernon, Washington’s Virginia home, it is used to tell the stories of people enslaved there.
That George Washington — and other Founding Fathers, including Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin — were slave owners does not diminish their iridescent achievements, which in the words of Abraham Lincoln, “brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
The declaration of liberty made in 1776 was not legitimized until 1863, with the Emancipation Proclamation. We also know “liberty” did not bring equality, that we still are a work in progress.
The way forward is to acknowledge our history, not to delete it.
In the words of Rutgers’ Holloway, “Names have value that exceeds someone’s existence.”