While the frenzy to rename building and tear town statues is understandable and sometimes justified (such as the leaders of the Confederacy, whose legacies were solely based on their willingness to use violence to defend the institution of slavery), the students who are now targeting Thomas Jefferson, Woodrow Wilson, and other national icons have probably gone too far. The historian David Greenberg explains “[w]hy we shouldn’t let a worthy examination of our country’s troubled past become a wholesale condemnation of our troubled forebears.”
“In ruling out of order any consideration of these men’s other historic contributions, a race-only approach more or less guarantees negative verdicts; given the racism that permeates the American past, virtually all of our leaders will necessarily come up short. And ironically, a race-only approach to judging figures from the past also reinforces a “great man” view of history that lays the blame for our failures at the feet of a few individuals while minimizing the role of society as a whole in perpetuating racist practices and institutions.”
One thing the students have done is to force us to confront the past. We can’t continue to ignore or whitewash our checkered past.