Archive for the ‘Famous’ Category

Service of Retrospect: Cleaning Up the Past with Rose Colored Glasses

Thursday, July 26th, 2018

Photo: icreatedaily.com

There a many powerful pro and con arguments about the confiscation of historic statues—of Robert E. Lee in New Orleans, Confederate Soldiers and Sailors in Baltimore or Jefferson Davis in Memphis to name a few—or the removal of names on prizes and honors of people once admired. In most cases their political positions, remarks or writings represented or reflected racist sentiments, often typical in the day, that are unacceptable now. Yet not all have been equally demoted.

Robert E. Lee statue formerly in New Orleans

Take Albert Einstein. In recently released travel diaries he wrote “some racist things about the Chinese back in the early 1920s,” Peter Dreier reported on prospect.org. “As I point out in my book,” wrote Dreier of  The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame, “none of the 100 people in my Social Justice Hall of Fame was

Albert Einstein Photo: biography.com

(or is) a saint. They all had vision, courage, persistence, and talent, but they also made mistakes.” He also wrote “I would certainly incorporate Einstein racist comments in my profile of him, but that wouldn’t exclude him from being in the pantheon of great American radicals and progressives.”

Drier continued: “Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood and a crusader for women’s health and birth control, briefly endorsed eugenics.

Margaret Sanger Photo: pbs.org

Theodore Roosevelt’s was a foe of big business, but his ‘big stick’ imperialism outraged many progressives. Alice Paul, the great women’s suffrage leader, was an anti-Semite. Eleanor Roosevelt also absorbed the casual anti-Semitism of her upper-class WASP upbringing.”

Then there’s the former Laura Ingalls Wilder Award. A division of the American Library Association [ALA]– the Association for Library Service to Children {ALSC]–renamed the award the Children’s Literature Legacy Award. According to Michael Taube in The Wall Street Journal, “‘Wilder’s legacy, as represented by her body of work, includes expressions of stereotypical attitudes inconsistent with ALSC’s core values of inclusiveness, integrity and respect, and responsiveness,’ the association announced in a press release.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Photo: en.wikipedia.org

“Characters in ‘Little House on the Prairie’ say ‘the only good Indian is a dead Indian’ three times,” Taube reported. “Wilder’s references to her white settler family’s manifest destiny has also troubled the black community,” he wrote.

Taub continued: “Hardly anyone would defend these sentiments today, but people are products of their times. The Wilder Award was established in 1954, and its first recipient was Laura Ingalls Wilder herself. If we judge past luminaries by today’s standards, who’s next to go?”

For 36 years the ALA collaborated on Banned Books Week with Amnesty International. Taub quoted “An ALSC blog post about it last September called the week a time to ‘celebrate intellectual freedom.’” He asked: “How does the ALSC square the spirit of Banned Books Week with its scrubbing of Wilder’s name?” and concluded “I tried to reach them, but didn’t receive a response.”

How best deal with the past when looking at it through today’s rose colored glasses?

  • Why are we inconsistent in our castigation of prominent historic figures, punishing some and not others? For example, should the World Cultural Council rename its Albert Einstein World Award of Science?
  • What does it take for some, and not others to lose their exalted place in the firmament of the admired?
  • Do you agree with the name change made by the Association for Library Service to Children from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award?
  • Should we leave well enough alone or in the forewords of book reprints, such as Ingalls Wilder’s, put in historic context her remarks and attitudes that are now considered hurtful and demeaning?

 

Eleanor Roosevelt Photo: tes.com

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