In Minnesota, the students and alumni of yet another high school have decided that they don’t want their fine institution of learning to be sullied by bearing the name of a racist slave owner. We’ve seen some of these in the past with protests against naming things after everyone from George Washington to Thomas Jefferson, but now we’re really digging down in the history barrel. The school in question is named after Patrick Henry. The Minnesota CBS outlet has the details.
— Students at Patrick Henry High School are organizing to change the name of their school.
“#ChangeTheName” is picking up steam, and now alumni and members of the community are joining the movement.
Students say Patrick Henry’s past as a slave owner was enough to make them want a change.
“You can’t change something unless people know first: what are we changing, why are we changing it?” Patrick Henry student Janaan Ahmed said.
Janaan Ahmed and Farhiyo Hassan says change comes by educating their peers about the damaging effects of upholding what they call oppressive figures, like Patrick Henry.
Check out the video from the local news to get the full flavor of some of the objections being raised.
One of the students is quoted as saying, “Patrick Henry and this institution was created at a time where integration was not allowed and segregation was promoted.”
I see. Well, actually the school was built long after segregation was outlawed and long, long after slavery ended. But that’s neither here nor there.
Look, I can see a need to complain if you happened to land in a school named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, George Wallace or even Robert Byrd. They were all men who lived at a time when we were supposed to know better. And while I disagree with erasing the nation’s history, I can even sort of understand some of the objections raised by students in schools named after Confederate military leaders. But Patrick Henry was born in the early 1700s. Yes, his family owned slaves, but he and his cousin Edward Coles both asked Thomas Jefferson later in life to find a way to end slavery, though no further concrete steps were taken at that time.
There were certainly things to be critical of regarding Henry, including the fights he got into with other Founders over the concept of federalism. (He wound up declining an appointment to the Constitutional Convention and opposing the ratification of the Constitution over these disagreements.) But he lived in a time when that was simply the way of the world, and even then he obviously wasn’t comfortable with it.
If everyone in that Minneapolis community really wants to rename the school, so be it. That’s a local issue best decided by the people who live and work there, and an internal initiative is far, far better than some mandate from the state or federal government. But it seems as if you have much bigger fish to fry and this is a case of making a racist mountain out of a historical molehill.