The other day I saw a blurb about how Georgetown is renaming some building on its campus that were named for former presidents of the school. Not super notable in and of itself, but it follows part of a trend that’s been going on for years now.
Apparently the two men were involved in the sale of Jesuit-owned (oi) slaves to help pay of university debt. Now I’m not defending slavery here, nor am I saying the two presidents were good guys. Maybe they were, or maybe they were colossal jagoffs.
But what seems to be lacking here is a consideration of historical context. You’d think the arbiters of such a prominent center for higher education would have heard of such a thing. But these days colleges are moving further and further left, and politics and political correctness trump most else. If you’re unfamiliar with what Mizzou sparked, do a quick Google search. I really think the university system in the US is imploding right now.
At any rate, there are plenty of historical figures whom we venerate or consider to have been great men and women, who did things that may be considered unacceptable or even terrible by today’s standards. The thing is, they didn’t live by today’s standards and we shouldn’t judge them as if they did. I would also venture to say that we as a society can honor the accomplishments of individuals without endorsing every aspect of their lives.
Many of the saints that we as Christians and Catholics celebrate did terrible things. Peter denied Christ. Paul was a hunter of Jews. Augustine was a spectacular hedonist. But they also all turned to God and lived great spiritual lives.
Many of our founding fathers owned slaves. Perhaps it’s just a matter of time before we hear calls to rename our national capital and countless streets, schools, and other public buildings. And we’d better include anything dedicated to George Washington Carver. He may have been a slave himself, but that doesn’t excuse him for being named after a shameless slave owner!
Last Man Standing did an episode on this two or three years ago. If you’re a Tim Allen fan who enjoyed Home Improvement, I highly recommend this, by the way. It’s also the only show I can recall watching that dips its toes into political waters and seems to slightly favor conservative values. The episode I’m thinking of dealt with some parents calling for the renaming of their children’s school. It had originally been named after William Lewis (of Lewis and Clark fame), but then it had come to light that Lewis had been a slave owner. I believe in the end, Tim Allen’s character convinced his liberal son-in-law (one of the parents protesting the school’s name) that the great accomplishments of one’s life shouldn’t be washed away by the mistake(s) one may have made.
Where is Tim Allen to educate the public when we need him?