We need to follow Johnson County’s lead and get real (and efficient) about “Cancel Culture” name changes.
I don’t know about you, but I’m conflicted about this “cancel culture” phenomenon, particularly the part in which public institutions are being considered for a name change because they’re named after an individual who is now considered unfit for the honor.
Consider this: The Department of Defense has established a commission tasked with renaming facilities which memorialize former Confederate generals including, Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Fort Rucker, Alabama; Fort Benning and Fort Gordon, Georgia; Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Polk, Louisiana; and four locations in Virginia, including Fort A.P. Hill, Fort Belvoir, Fort Lee and Fort Pickett.
In San Francisco, the school board voted 6-1 in January to rename schools honoring “racist” historical figures like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Paul Revere(?!?!) and replace them with people who didn’t aid or abet slavery, genocide or human rights abuses. Despite the fact that the vote was subsequently rescinded after the move drew nationwide ire, criticized for being based on flawed information without insight from historians, remember, before the criticism, it was originally passed.*
*Around the Block has learned that one piece of flawed information the SF School Board used to make their initial decision was the Paul Revere remembrances of The 2000 Year Old Man (aka Mel Brooks):
2000 Year Old Man:
Paul Revere was anti-semitic! Yelling all through the night, the Yiddish are coming the Yiddish are coming!
He was yelling the British were coming
2000 Year Old Man:
Oy, my God!
For more of the 2000 Year Old Man’s remembrances of Paul Revere, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JokN9VyQN1Y
Not only are the name changes often based on possibly dubious information, they come with considerable divisiveness, disruption and cost.
Well, I learned today, courtesy of a county in Iowa, Johnson County, that there is a solution…a way to change names without really changing names.
According to a report in The New York Times:
A county in Iowa has cut ties with a slave-owning U.S. vice president for which it had been named, choosing instead to be named for a professor who was the first Black woman to earn a doctorate in the state.”They shared a surname: Johnson.”Johnson County chose Lulu Merle Johnson, who taught history at several historically Black colleges and universities, as its official eponym after a unanimous vote Thursday by the county’s Board of Supervisors. The county, a Democratic bastion, is home to Iowa City and the University of Iowa.
It had been named after Richard Mentor Johnson, the ninth vice president and a Kentuckian who had no known connections to Iowa. He served with President Martin Van Buren, a fellow Democrat, from 1837 to 1841.”
Now, if Johnson County can do it, why can’t everyone else. It’s a win-win.
So, with that in mind, let me get the ball rolling with some suggestions:
- George Washington to Denzel Washington – Two time Oscar winner
- Thomas Jefferson to George Jefferson – Eponymous star of “The Jeffersons”
- Abraham Lincoln to Abbey Lincoln – American jazz vocalist and civil rights activist
- Paul Revere to Anne Revere – Actress and progressive member of the board of SAG
- Ft. Bragg after Braxton Bragg, Confederate General, to Don Bragg – Olympic Gold Medalist
- Ft. Gordon after John Brown Gordon, Confederate General, to Ruth Gordon – American actress, screenwriter, and playwright
- Ft. Lee after Robert E. Lee, Confederate General, to Pinky Lee, host of the TV’s The Pinky Lee Show.
I could go on but I don’t want to do all the work for our civic leaders in their quest to change eponyms to more politically correct ones.
So, if in your community there is a cancel culture movement to more appropriate, less divisive naming of buildings, streets and other public entities, I urge you to act. Propose changing names by not changing the names. It’s your civic duty. It’s your fiscal responsibility. And boy, is it fun coming up with the alternatives.