Thursday, December 17, 2015

Stranglers – "No More Heroes" (1977)

Whatever happened to the heroes?
No more heroes any more

In 1992, the New Orleans school board voted to adopt a policy prohibiting the naming of schools after former slave owners or others who “did not respect equal opportunity for all.”  (Over 90% of students in New Orleans public schools at that time were African-American.)

A few years later, that school board voted unanimously to change the name of George Washington Elementary School.  

''Why should African-Americans want their kids to pay respect or pay homage to someone who enslaved their ancestors?'' asked Carl Galmon, a local civil rights activist, in 1997.  ''This was the most degrading thing that ever happened in North America, and Washington was a part of it. To African-Americans, George Washington has about as much meaning as David Duke.''

David Duke
(Carl Galmon has got to be the first guy to compare George Washington to David Duke, a former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.)

When Washington died in 1799, there were 318 slaves living at Mt. Vernon.  Of that number, 123 were owned by Washington.  (Most of the rest of them had been owned by Martha Washington’s first husband.)

Washington with slaves at Mount Vernon
To give credit where credit is due, Washington provided in his will that his slaves would be freed after both he and Martha had died.  

But Washington may not have been as kind to his slaves when he was alive.  According to the Mount Vernon website, 

Richard Parkinson, an Englishman who lived near Mount Vernon, once reported that "it was the sense of all his [Washington's] neighbors that he treated [his slaves] with more severity than any other man."  Conversely, a foreign visitor traveling in America once recorded that George Washington dealt with his slaves "far more humanely than do his fellow citizens of Virginia."  What is clear is that Washington frequently utilized harsh punishment against the enslaved population, including whippings and the threat of particularly taxing work assignments.  Perhaps most severely, Washington could sell a slave to a buyer in the West Indies, ensuring that the person would never see their family or friends at Mount Vernon again. Washington conducted such sales on several occasions.

Former U.S. Presidents Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Jackson, Van Buren (who was from New York, where slavery was legal until 1827), Harrison, Tyler, Polk, Taylor, Andrew Johnson, and Ulysses S. Grant also owned slaves.  Should their names be erased from the many public schools named after them?

What about U.S. Presidents who didn't own slaves but viewed whites as superior to other races? 

Recently, student protestors invaded the office of Princeton University’s president, demanding that the school take the name of Woodrow Wilson off Princeton buildings.

Woodrow Wilson
Wilson – who was the president of Princeton before becoming President of the United States – was “virulently racist” even by the standards of the era when he lived, according to the protestors:

Wilson discouraged the admission of black students to Princeton, opposed black suffrage, was an ardent KKK apologist, and resegregated federal offices that had previously been integrated — costing many black families their jobs.

As NYU professor Regina Rini has written,

Once we’ve started rescinding honours from besmirched heroes, where should we stop?  On any reasonable scale of evil, the segregationist Wilson cannot be as bad as George Washington, who owned hundreds of slaves.  So must we also rename several universities, a northwestern state, and the District of Columbia?  The last, in fact, seems to require double renaming, as Christopher Columbus is now seen as a genocidal monster.  Perhaps "America" itself ought to go: Amerigo Vespucci wrapped up his first voyage to the New World by setting a native village on fire and "thereon made sail for Spain with 222 captive slaves."

Where will the line be drawn?  I suspect that most schools named after Confederates will eventually be renamed – particularly if they are named for Confederates other than Robert E. Lee (like Jefferson Davis and Nathan Bedford Forrest).

But I don't think George Washington has much to worry about.  (The same is true for Thomas Jefferson.)

"No More Heroes" is a 1977 single that was released on the Stranglers' album of the same name.

The first verse of "No More Heroes" refers to the assassination of the Marxist revolutionary, Leon Trotsky.  I don't think there are any schools in the U.S. named for Trotsky – not to mention Joseph Stalin, the man who ordered Trotsky's murder.

Here's "No More Heroes":

Click below to order the song from Amazon:

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