In Minneapolis, what was once Lake Calhoun — the city’s biggest lake — has recently been renamed Bde Maka Ska, for all the painfully familiar reasons. Roger Kimball addresses the issues embedded in those reasons in his Imprimis essay “Shall we defend our common history?” This is a smart and biting essay that sheds light on dark corners of the left’s will to power.
I asked Roger if there was anything he wanted to add to the essay. He responded: “I did make one mistake. I said that Notre Dame was a Jesuit institution. (Covering up the murals was so stupidI thought it must be Jesuit.). In fact, it is a Congregation of Holy Cross institution.” Here’s the corrected text:
Notre Dame, a Congregation of Holy Cross institution, may not be particularly friendly to its Catholic heritage. But its president, the Rev. John Jenkins, demonstrated how jesuitical (if not, quite, Jesuit) he could be. Queried about the censorship, he said, apparently without irony, that his decision to cover the murals was not intended to conceal anything, but rather to tell “the full story” of Columbus’s activities.
Roger takes up Calhoun in connection with events at Yale:
Consider some recent events at Yale University, an institution where preening self-infatuation is always on parade. Yale recently formed a Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming and a Committee on Art in Public Spaces. Members of the former prowl the campus looking for buildings, colleges, faculty chairs, lecture programs, and awards that have politically incorrect names. The latter police works of art and other images on campus, making sure that anything offensive to favored groups is covered or removed.
At the residential college formerly known as Calhoun College, for example—it’s now called Grace Hopper College—the Committee ordered the removal of stained glass windows depicting slaves and other historical scenes of Southern life. Statues and other representations of John C. Calhoun have likewise been slotted for removal. Calhoun, an 1804 Yale graduate, was a leading statesman and political thinker of his day. But he was also an apologist for slavery, so he has to be erased from the record.
Of course, impermissible attitudes and images are never in short supply once the itch to stamp out history gets going. Two years ago it was Calhoun and representations of the Antebellum South. More recently it was a carving at an entrance to Yale’s Sterling Memorial Library depicting an Indian and a Puritan. The Puritan, if you can believe it, was holding a musket—a gun! Who knows, perhaps he was a member of the NRA or at least could give inspiration to other members of that very un-Yale-like organization. According to Susan Gibbons, one of Yale’s librarian-censors, the presence of an armed Puritan “at a major entrance to Sterling was not appropriate.” Solution? Cover over the musket with a cowpat of stone—but leave the Indian’s bow and arrow alone!
Actually, it turns out that the removable cowpat of stone was only a stopgap. The outcry against the decision struck a chord with Peter Salovey, Yale’s president. “Such alteration,” he noted, “represents an erasure of history, which is entirely inappropriate at a university.” He’s right about that. But if anyone has mastered the art of saying one thing while doing the opposite it is President Salovey. He spoke against “the erasure of history.” But then, instead of merely altering the image, he announced that Yale would go full Taliban, removing the offending stonework altogether.
In the bad old days, librarians and college presidents were people who sought to protect the past, that vast storehouse of offensive attitudes and behavior that also just so happens to define our common inheritance. In our own more enlightened times, many librarians and college presidents collude in its effacement….