You Can’t Judge a Historical Figure by Today’s Standards

Some people take it upon themselves to make wholesale changes to history by applying contemporary sensibilities to those who lived in the past.

Matt Haney, San Francisco School Board President, made headlines a couple of weeks ago when he recommended that George Washington High School be renamed due to Washington being a slave owner.  He suggested replacing Washington’s name with Maya Angelou’s.

As much as I admire Angelou, she worked as a prostitute and a madam when she was young, not exactly noble professions.  However, overcoming these obstacles as well as a childhood rape makes her story of survival and success quite compelling.   There should be a school named after her, but not at the expense of removing the name of the father of our country.

Back in the 1770s, wealthy men typically were slave owners.   To his credit, Washington had written in his will that his slaves were to be freed.  The Mount Vernon website states that Washington was “the only slave-holding Founding Father” to do this.

Think of all the schools, streets, and cities named after George Washington.

Since half of Washington, D.C.’s population is African-American, should that region be renamed as well?

It is wrong to judge a person from the past based on current mores.

One could make the case that all historical figures have something in their past that would not pass the 2016 litmus test.

John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, probably would not have been in favor of same-sex marriage in 1960, but that was not even an issue in his time so it is unfair to judge him on it.

Who is to say that something people do now may be viewed as abhorrent 50 or 100 years from now?

Some people protest the teaching of Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” in schools because of the frequent use of the n-word.   Those ignorant of the book might even label Twain a racist without understanding that what Twain was writing back in 1885—a white boy sharing a raft and a life’s journey with a black man who serves as a surrogate father—was quite progressive in 1885.

Flash forward 130 years later, and people wish to denigrate Twain’s legacy.  However, he was not living in the 20th or 21st century.

This weekend the National Museum of African American History and Culture opens in Washington, D.C. with artifacts about Bill Cosby including a note about the current sexual accusations against the entertainer.

Some people wanted all mention of Cosby to be expunged from the museum.

If he is convicted, should he be wiped out of history?

Evidently there are not enough legitimate issues for the San Francisco School Board to grapple with, allowing them the luxury to raise issues that do nothing but put their district in the news for the wrong reasons.

Ask students what they want from their school and changing the name of it probably does not appear on their to-do list.

Mr. Haney and others like him should cease the high and mighty posture and stop altering with what people did before they were born.  That’s not their job.

Let’s hope removing George Washington’s name from the history books does not appear on the next school board meeting’s agenda.


A Tale of Two Football Players

There is always more than one way to make a difference in people’s lives.

Some people donate to charities, some protest or march, some write newspaper columns.

And some people choose more controversial ways.

Colin Kaepernick, back-up quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, has garnered massive attention in recent weeks due to his refusal to stand for the national anthem as a protest to the way people of color are treated in America.

By latest account, his jersey ranks near the top in all NFL sales.  Not all people buying his jersey are wearing it; some are burning it.

While his story has lit up headlines, talk shows, and social media—even President Obama chimed in that Kaepernick has a constitutional right to his silent protest—another story about a different football player has received less attention.

Travis Rudolph, wide receiver for Florida State University, along with a handful of his teammates, visited Montford Middle School in Tallahassee on Aug. 30 while the students ate lunch.  Rudolph picked up a couple of slices of pizza and sat next to a sixth grader who was eating by himself.  It turns out that 11-year-old Bo Paske has autism and, because of that, often eats alone.

A photo was taken of the encounter.  Upon viewing it, Leah Paske, Bo’s mother, posted on her Facebook account that “this is one day I didn’t have to worry if my sweet boy ate lunch alone, because he sat across from someone who is a hero in many eyes.”

“I’m not sure what exactly made this incredibly kind man share a lunch table with my son, but I’m happy to say it will not soon be forgotten.”

When all the parties appeared on “Fox and Friends,” Bo retold the moment when Rudolph asked him, “‘Hey, can I sit down with you?’  And I said, ‘Sure, why not?’ and just like that we were eating lunch together.  And he even signed my lunchbox.”

Rudolph said, “We clicked.”

When watching the interview, it is curious how uncomfortable Rudolph appears, as if he really does not want all this attention for doing something that to him must have been second nature. He had no idea a photo would be taken and that it would go viral.  He did not seek publicity.

Compare that to Kaepernick’s endless stream of tweets about his protest.

Performing acts of kindness isn’t a box that is checked off on a form of doing one’s duty as a human being.  It has to come from within one’s soul.

Rudolph told ESPN, “I feel like maybe I can change someone’s life or I can make someone a better person or make someone want to be great or be like me, or even better.”

One major distinction between these two football players is the avenue they chose to make a difference. Kaepernick’s choice—a football game on national television.  Rudolph’s choice—a lunch table with a solitary boy.

What adds a deeper meaning to this relationship is that Rudolph, African-American, and Bo, Caucasian, are building a bridge between the races, one relationship at a time.  The only bridge Kaepernick is building is pledging to donate $1 million along with proceeds from his jersey sales to communities dealing with racial injustice, but so far no action has happened.

Bo summed up his feelings about Rudolph eating lunch with him: “It was kind of like me sitting on a rainbow.”

Meanwhile, Kaepernick is sitting on a bench.