Monday, June 25, 2018

A Cultural War against Yesterday's Heroes

If you drive east of Springfield on Missouri State Highway 60, you will arrive at the small town of Mansfield. It's called a city but you'd be forgiven if you thought is was like a village from decades ago. After all, if everyone is in town, you'll find only 564 households are spread over the 1.6 square miles. Take 100 residents at random and you'd identify 97% as white.

Mansfield seems an unlikely place to reference when thinking about the cultural wars that disrupt family celebrations and pit one post against another-- until you realize who lived there.

Today's news reflects the iconoclastic movement of our time. The branch of the American Library Association dealing with children's literature, The Association for Library Service to Children, voted to remove Mansfield's famous author from their awards. The award will now be called, "Children's Literature Legacy Award." The Star Tribune quotes the association's statement about Wilder's works: "includes expressions of stereotypical attitudes inconsistent with ALSC's core values."


If you are heading south on Interstate 95 in Virginia, you might miss another highway, Route 1, named in honor of the South's only president, Jefferson Davis. On Saturday (24 June, 2018) the city of Alexandria, VA decided to rename the road, Richmond Highway.

Some say people are re-writing history. Perhaps they are in one sense. But in a larger sense, they are rewriting how people will view history in the future. Wilder has been a popular author for years. Her works exist. And her expressions reflect the views of some unknown number of people at her time and for years afterward. What's gone is a place of honor.

Jefferson Davis is a part of history.  That won't change. The interpretation of his contribution to history can vary with the writer and the reader. Road signs are different. Road signs represent a place of honor.

The two places I mention are places in America. But the U.S. is not unique when it comes to nations whose people reconsider the way previous leaders behaved toward their inhabitants. 

Most people can be proud of some things their family members have accomplished. Most of us can identify great things our nations have done for our people and for others. But it is equally true that an honest appraisal of our past includes things said and done that are shameful--things worth remembering--not with honor--but with regret or as lessons about old attitudes.

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