America has an American history gap.
The violence that erupted this weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the push to rid America’s landscapes of certain reminders of American history are not as bloodied as past clashes.
Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland, said Tuesday that the statue of the late U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert B. Taney will be removed “immediately” from the front of the State House in Annapolis.
Taney was the first Roman Catholic on the high court and wrote the dreaded 1857 Dred Scott Decision, which upheld slavery and denied citizenship to blacks. Scott was a slave and native of Virginia. Taney was a wealthy Democrat and a Maryland native.
The fact that Taney was a Democrat does not soothe the souls of the folks who see as the enemy the likeness of the man who said Scott was due no citizenship.
So Taney goes. Thurgood Marshall, America’s first black Supreme Court justice, stays.
On Monday a woman climbed atop a Confederate memorial in front of a courthouse in Durham, North Carolina, and helped to topple the statue.
Law enforcers are considering vandalism charges, and said they didn’t intervene in the toppling because of “public safety” reasons.
Across the country, mayors, governors and other elected leaders are weighing the cries: “Keep ‘em up!” “Tear ‘em down!”
Are we even teaching history to children anymore?
We teach that blacks served on the Union side of the Civil War. Do we teach that blacks also served on the Confederate side, too?
More important, once most or all of the Confederate statues are removed, what’s next?
Should the museums along and near the National Mall — the ones that tell the history of Native Americans, Jews, African-Americans and women — come down, too, because there are pockets of Americans who don’t appreciate their historical renderings?
Should the nation’s capital be remapped and the Confederate states’ names be stripped? No more Mississippi, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Florida avenues.
And, ooh, Tennessee. Let’s not leave out Tennessee, whose namesake slides through Capitol Hill, as Pierre L’Enfant intended. Tennessee, the Volunteer State, was home to Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and founding father of the Ku Klux Klan. A millionaire cotton plantation owner, he also was a slave trader. He also was a Democrat.
The governor of Tennessee, Bill Haslam, a Republican, is urging state lawmakers to rid the state capitol of a bust of Forrest.
Said Jim Gray, mayor of Lexington and a Democrat, “This is a time to stand up and speak out.”
And we mustn’t leave Louisiana and that Frenchman L’Enfant off the good riddance list either.
Intermingling between blacks and whites in Louisiana was forbidden, going so far as to prohibit interaction in church pews (which sounds awfully familiar, eh?). France laid down its Jacques Crow codes — or Jim Crow laws, please and thanks — after it began taking free and already enslaved blacks from the West Indies and bringing them to America in the early 1700s.
Today, Louisiana’s culture and population continue to reflect the multicultural and multilingual heritage of its French history and its history of enslaving Africans and Spaniards.
As for Pierre L’Enfant, well, George Washington enlisted L’Enfant to lay out the Federal City. Washington fired him, and the Paris-born war veteran returned to France.
To appease the Anti-Establishment, Anti-Symbol crowds, why not also rid the nation’s capital of obvious honorable L’Enfant symbols, such as L’Enfant Plaza (which some people cannot properly pronounce anyway) and the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station along the Blue and Yellow Lines.
Rename the station for Benjamin Banneker, in honor of the free black man who helped complete the Federal City plans after the father of our country kicked him out.
And this is a good one, too: Target Freedom Plaza, which is a raised plot smack dab in front of City Hall. The plot has a marble inlay that depicts L’Enfant’s plan for the city and his name.
The plaza, originally named Western Plaza, is a marker on the Civil War Heritage Trail and part of America’s inaugural trail along Pennsylvania Avenue.
Rework the inscription on behalf of Banneker and Andrew Ellicott, the two men who completed the job L’Enfant did not.
There’s much to be done if the pace of Topple That Symbol continues unabated.
Now if only our secondary schools and colleges can get with the program they have been entrusted with — and that is teaching American history, world history and geography.
The culture of ignorance is obvious, as is Americans’ history gap.
Did the hell-raisers even connect the dots? White nationalists; Charlottesville, Virginia; Thomas Jefferson, president, slave holder, father of public education, lover of history, inhaler of fine living.
Oh, and Charlottesville chose to close its public schools rather than consent to the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling that Marshall, as an attorney, successfully argued for in 1954.
Bridge the history gap, end the chaos.
• Deborah Simmons can be contacted at email@example.com.