The absurdity of trying to erase history continues. Now, some people are calling for a change of the name of certain cities, namely Austin, Texas, because it was named after a a supporter of slavery – Stephen F. Austin. They also want to change the names of several of the city’s streets. This would all be done in the name of erasing racists from history.
Renaming streets, and even cities, is not really a new thing. Many cities commonly rename streets to honor new heroes. What’s different here is that the desire is to eliminate certain figures from history. The Equity Office is the city of Austin’s governmental oversight group that is charged with ideas to create better equity amongst races and ethnicities. The renaming efforts were amongst their recommendations.
The problem is that renaming places doesn’t do much for equity or equality; they are just names. Changing a name does nothing to elevate the status of a group of people. Nor does it rectify historical wrongs. It just changes what people are supposed to call places. My guess would be that if you polled Americans, almost no one would even know whom after which the city of Austin is named. And, I believe, almost no one would even be aware of the personage of Steven F. Austin. I would also hazard a guess that the majority of people living In Austin, Texas would even be able to answer these questions.
Further, attempting to erase historical figures from memory doesn’t change the history as it happened, and forgetting parts of history or the figures of people within it does far more harm than good. The Confederacy’s strong support of slavery is definitely a dark place of American history, and those that have furthered the ideas of racial hatred, slavery, bigotry, and the awful ideas that a human being can be the property of another person, should neither be honored nor celebrated. It is true that naming a city after a person is quite an honor, but it’s also a significant part of history that should be remembered.
The bad parts of history and the bad people perpetuating terrible things must be remembered as much as the good parts of history. There has always been a practice of washing over the nasty side of the past, but it’s never a good thing. The bad parts teach us and warn us just as much as the good parts. When we maintain the memories of people who supported terrible things in the past, we are not continuing to celebrate their legacies. Rather, we are accepting the fact that they were once celebrated as heroes.
The statues and monuments, as well as the names of places, represent an important role in acknowledging that history is neutral. In proper perspective, heroes of the past represented both good and bad. Stephen F. Austin supported slavery and bigotry, but he also made it possible to have the booming State that Texas is today. Without him, Texas might still be a backwater. Historical figures are a mix. Many perpetuated horrible things, but also had many positive impacts. Very few people are all evil.
Most people contain at least small parts of good and small parts of evil. Recognizing the impact of figures in the past – even ones that may have supported and perpetuated terrible things – gives a positive perspective today. It’s in history and, therefore, is not representative of current thought. Rather, it is something that supports current thought and helps to inform a better society today.
Trying to forget and erase racism, slavery, and bigotry doesn’t mean it never happened, and it doesn’t stop it from happening currently, but remembering both the past and the people that played a role in shaping it is a good thing that prevents such terrible things in the present and the future. It makes us all better. The name of a place is just its name to most people. Rarely does it cause people to celebrate the namesakes. Changing names won’t help us, but remembering the past will.
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