Let me see if I have this right. People want to take down statues of Robert E. Lee, a man who wrote that slavery is “a moral & political evil,” but retain statues, buildings, street names and so on memorializing slaveholders George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, the documented racist Woodrow Wilson, the suspected anti-Asian racist Franklin Roosevelt and so on, not to mention the womanizers JFK, MLK and Bill Clinton (Trump too, but he has no statues yet).
And what about Washington and Lee University? Would it become simply Washington University? Putting aside the fact that the name is already taken by the excellent institution in St. Louis, I again ask: The idea is to retain the name of the slaveholder but get rid of the name of the anti-slavery guy posthaste, that is what people would want?
Isn’t this all just a wee bit inconsistent?
Oh, and I just noticed a building on my campus with a sign outside saying Student Community Center. Since statistical significance testing has come to be strongly questioned recently, and the Student t-test is central to such methods, it is clear that the aforementioned building needs to be renamed immediately.
Lest some readers not quite catch it, I’d better state for the record that this last point is made tongue-in-cheek (though significance testing is indeed coming to be questioned, for good reason). But concerning the statues, why not treat this as a “teachable moment”? I believe that we should retain the Lee statues but at the same time America’s schools should make a classroom example of Lee. On the one hand, he opposed slavery, but on the other hand he believed in states rights. The latter is not important to most people these days, and I submit it to be an outmoded notion, but it was a huge issue at the time. Lee’s moral dilemma would make for insightful classroom discussions, something we educators yearn for.
A good, positive compromise, don’t you think?
Update, Aug. 16, 10 pm: According to Robert E. Lee: a Biography, by Emory Thomas, Lee’s opposition to slavery was more nuanced than what I wrote above, and it was as much practical as it was based on ethical grounds. And in terms of emancipation, he was a gradualist, in contrast to Lincoln. To me, these nuances make his case even more of a “teachable moment.”