Above: Joseph Lane
From a blogging perspective, this is a really good time for me to be on a research trip with limited internet access and blogging falling down the priority list below basically my three favorite things in the world, all of which I can do better in Oregon than anything else–historical research, beer, and hiking. It’s a good time because nobody cares about labor issues or environmental issues in the middle of the weirdest election since 1860 (or at least 1912). But sadly, my trip is slowly drawing to an end and I will return to east coast exile, albeit at least missing the humidity from Hell.
Anyway, there’s a good story in Eugene right now, which is the desire by many to rename two buildings on the University of Oregon campus because they are named after racist people. The first is named after Matthew Deady, who was a pro-slavery Democrat at the time of the Civil War, but who really did become more tolerant as he grew older, being pro-Chinese at a time when Oregonians hated the idea of Chinese invading their white paradise. The second is Frederick Dunn, who only sort of headed the Eugene KKK in the 1920s and burned a cross on the hill above town. Oh, that’s all.
Obviously these guys aren’t as famous as John C. Calhoun and Yale’s outsized attention in the American media (including, hilariously, in the left media) means that outside of Oregon, no one is going to care about this. Of course a lot of people in Oregon are upset by this “PC run amok.” But whatever. As I have said many times before, the present has no obligation to respect the people of the past. We reinterpret the past for the present all the time. Keeping names on buildings is the same choice-making about history as changing them. I am generally ambivalent about this personally–although something as egregious as Calhoun Hall is beyond the pale–because there any ways to contextualize these buildings.
But there’s also no good reason to stop at buildings. I am in Lane County, Oregon. Who is that named after? Joseph Lane. Who was that? Only John C. Breckinridge’s VP candidate and a man accused of effectively keeping a slave in his house until 1878! Wow. So really, Deady and Dunn are one thing. But let’s rename Lane County.
I can think of the perfect name to replace it. Mariota County.