If something is worth doing in America, it’s worth overdoing.
ESPN proved this eternal truth anew this week when it announced that, in response to the violence in Charlottesville, it was removing announcer Robert Lee from broadcasting the University of Virginia football game in Charlottesville — because he has the same name as the Confederate commander Robert E. Lee. ESPN’s Lee is Asian American.
Similar caution just led the University of Houston to change the name of its Calhoun Lofts dorm because it shares a name with the 19th-century vice president and white supremacist John C. Calhoun, even though, a university spokeswoman told the Houston Chronicle, “the residence hall was not named in recognition of John C. Calhoun” but a nearby street.
In Atlanta, likewise, protesters last week attempted to tear down that city’s Peace Monument, apparently mistaking it for a Confederate shrine. The sculpture was erected to honor those who worked for reunification during Reconstruction.
The movement to remove Confederate monuments can be a healthy one, if done legally, according to the wishes of local citizens and in such a way that preserves this history without glorifying it. But from across this great land come reminders that nothing in America succeeds like excess.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a 90-day review of any statues on city property that could be “symbols of hate.” New Yorkers are now taking aim at the Christopher Columbus statue in Columbus Circle and the tomb of Ulysses S. Grant.
Some object to the Theodore Roosevelt statue outside the Museum of Natural History, and others suggest the name “New York” itself may have to go because the Duke of York was a slave trader. New York chef Tom Colicchio dropped the name of his new restaurant because it was named after a building that was named after 19th-century publishers who had racist views.
There’s a movement in Massachusetts to rename Boston’s Faneuil Hall, cradle of the Revolution, because the 1742 structure was built by a slave trader and owner, Peter Faneuil. Residents of Philadelphia and Seattle, not to be left out, want to remove statues of, respectively, Frank Rizzo and Vladimir Lenin.
Some may see this as a pell-mell rush to replicate George Orwell’s “1984,” in which “every statue and street and building has been renamed.” But I don’t think it goes far enough.
If we are to purge ourselves of Robert E. Lee (and ESPN’s Robert Lee) we must avoid confusion by renaming or replacing all things with names similar to the Confederate general’s: Bruce Lee, Tommy Lee, Spike Lee, Harper Lee, Bobby Lee, Lee jeans, Lee Majors and Lee Iacocca.
It won’t do simply to rename schools named for the Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart. We’re going to have to rename Stuart Little, Stuart the Minion from “Despicable Me,” Jon Stewart, Martha Stewart and Jeb Bush. All statues of Jubal Early must come down. So must all things that share names with this Confederate general: early-bird specials, early morning, early retirement, early voting and early NBA-draft entry.
If Confederate hero Nathan Bedford Forrest must go, so must the Redwood forest. Also the Gulf Stream waters. Fort A.P. Hill, an army base named for a Confederate general, must be renamed. So must Capitol Hill, Beacon Hill, Nob Hill, Bunker Hill, the Sugarhill Gang, Blueberry Hill, and Bill and Hill.
Let us dispense with Jefferson Davis, by all means — but take with him Miles Davis, Sammy Davis Jr., Davis Love, the Davis Cup, the University of California at Davis, the Jefferson Hotel, Thomas Jefferson, George Jefferson, Louise “Weezy” Jefferson, Jefferson Pierce (Black Lightning) and especially Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, who also shares a name with Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard. Now that New Orleans has taken down its Beauregard statue, we’re also going to have to relocate Bo Jackson, Bo Derek and Bo Diddley.
Memorials to Confederate Gen. Leonidas Polk cannot be moved without also erasing all trace of President James Polk, polka dances, polka dots, Hawaiian poke and Pokémon. Picket lines must be outlawed and picket fences flattened to avoid honoring Gen. George Pickett, and I will stonewall any attempt to disappear Gen. Thomas Jackson without also renaming Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Reggie Jackson, Percy Jackson, Action Jackson and Jackson Hole.
I regret to say we must also rename my Washington Post colleague Philip Rucker, who shares a name with (though is not related to) Confederate Gen. Edmund Rucker.
That’s asking a lot of Phil, but we all must do our share. I will be demanding a new name for my public high school, Calhoun High School. It’s not named for John C. but for Sanford H., a 20th-century New York school administrator who, to the best of my knowledge, did not own slaves. But you can’t be too careful.