|WHEN SYMBOLS CLASH
Should America re-evaluate its civic symbols?
December 10, 1997
in this forum:
Should we avoid using people as civic symbols? Should we treat school names differently? How do other countries deal with controversial symbols? Should we consider some figures in American history sacred? Should a community be allowed to choose its own symbols? Additional comments and questions. This seems to have become a problem after the school board decided to rename George Washington Elementary. Are some figures in American history sacred? Should figures like Washington, Jefferson or Columbus remain untouchable? Who should decide which figures are untouchable?
Clarence Page responds:No historical figure is untouchable. Historians argue among themselves. Why should they have all the fun?
Professor Sean Wilentz responds:No American is untouchable -- because America is not chiefly in the business of canonizing secular saints. We always reevaluate, because we as a country are always in some sort of flux. That said, there are certain figures whose enormous contributions are so secure that they are unlikely ever to be deserving of denigration. Washington is one. So is Martin Luther King, Jr. (whom some narrow-minded people tried to drag into disgrace when it was revealed that King's doctoral dissertation was less than wholly original).