Honoring the Confederacy, in Uptown Minneapolis

In the wake of the White supremacist terrorist attack in Charleston, SC, there have been an increasing number of calls to remove the Confederate flag from all state grounds.  Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a very compelling post on the subject.  In fact, if you haven't read it yet, stop now and click over.  Then come back.

I'm glad for the building effort to take down the Confederate flag.  It is a symbol of White supremacy and terrorism against Black people.  It has no place in our society.

But one of the things that's annoyed me in watching this growing movement is the self-righteous sectionalism of lots of White people who live here in The North.  "Can you believe they're STILL fly that flag?" the chiding goes, "it's so obviously a symbol of hate.  How could they do that?"  

Well, fellow northerners, it's time to take out that mirror again.

Today, Minneapolis NAACP President Nekima Levy-Pounds tweeted a link to a really strong story by KARE 11's Jana Shortal on why we need to change the name of Minneapolis's Lake Calhoun.  For those who aren't from Minneapolis, Lake Calhoun is the central feature of the city's Uptown neighborhood.  Uptown is diverseish by Minnesota standards, but is dominated by young White millennials with disposable income.  

Since I started reading James McPherson's incredible Civil War history Battle Cry of Freedom, I've been more aware of who John C. Calhoun was.  I've tweeted about this a few times, but have done nothing to actually effect change.  I regret that inaction.

For a very short review of history, John C. Calhoun was a South Carolinian who held various offices including Senator, Secretary of State, and Vice President.  As a Senator at the end of his life, Calhoun dedicated himself to protecting the right of White people to hold Black people as slaves.  If you had to pick one person who did the most in an official capacity to defend the institution of slavery and push the nation to civil war, Calhoun would be a strong choice.  He tried to ban Congress from being able to exclude slavery in the territories and tried to form a "Southern Rights" party dedicated to protecting the institution of slavery forever (see Battle Cry for this and much more on Calhoun).

Another symbol of hate and racism

In perhaps his most infamous speech, Calhoun asserted that not only was slavery not evil, but it was "a positive good."  A bit more from the horse's mouth:

I appeal to facts. Never before has the black race of Central Africa, from the dawn of history to the present day, attained a condition so civilized and so improved, not only physically, but morally and intellectually. It came among us in a low, degraded, and savage condition, and in the course of a few generations it has grown up under the fostering care of our institutions, reviled as they have been, to its present compara­tively civilized condition. This, with the rapid increase of numbers, is conclusive proof of the general happiness of the race, in spite of all the exaggerated tales to the contrary...
I hold that in the present state of civiliza­tion, where two races of different origin, and distinguished by color, and other physical differences, as well as intellectual, are brought together, the relation now existing in the slaveholding States between the two, is, instead of an evil, a good-a positive good.
— John C. Calhoun

That's the namesake of our wonderful Lake Calhoun.

For those of us from The North who may not have known this information, I'd like us all to pause and take stock of our reaction to learning it.  If our reaction was anything in the neighborhood of "wow, I didn't know that" or "huh--I hadn't thought about that before" or "well, that's not what the name of that lake has ever meant to me," I think it's important we stop and consider our reaction to White southerners professing that the confederate flag means something different to them.  For me, this reflection caused a humble tempering in some of my own self-righteousness.

White southerners are not the only people who need to come to terms with the racist past and present implications of symbols of White supremacy from Confederate South Carolina.

Now, what to do about changing the name.  Shortal interviewed one Minneapolis Park Board Commissioner, Brad Bourn, who's in favor of changing the name.  Shortal also reported that changing the name was a long process.  But screw that--change it anyway.  Let's start with Mr. Bourn and the rest of the Minneapolis Park Board Commission.

Here are the names and contact information for the nine Park Board Commissioners.  Email and call them to let them know the name of Lake Calhoun must be changed (and thank Commissioner Bourn for his support!)

I've also started this petition to change the name of the lake.  Sign it, share it, and tell people why they should sign it too.

Honoring the legacy of a man who fiercely advocated the enslavement of one race of people by another based on inherent superiority is morally unjustifiable.  But as we push to change the name, let's make sure we're doing so as part of a larger effort to confront White supremacy and systems of oppression wherever we live.  Changing the name of Lake Calhoun is important, but wholly insufficient in and of itself in the quest for justice.

As for what the new name of the lake should be, I really don't know, and I don't think I should have a say in it.  That honor should be left to the American Indians of the region from whom the lake was taken in the first place.