Dr. E. Faye Williams
Change (verb): To make the form…of something different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone: …to change the course of history. (Dictionary.com)
I accept as completely valid that all things will inevitably change – and that change isn’t necessarily bad. Accordingly, I’m pleased with recent, little-known “culture war” changes that have been made and with the attitude shifts that have resulted from these changes. Some of these changes seem insignificant or too small to warrant broader consideration from the public, but we know that progress starts with a single step, often the smallest. I pray that these changes will spawn a new consciousness and outlook in bringing resolution to our national curse – our inability to honestly deal with race. Allow me to expand the thought.
Let’s begin in Prince William County, Virginia, a suburban area of Metropolitan Washington DC. In a recent action orchestrated and requested by a group of dedicated citizens, the local school board renamed the Mills E. Godwin Middle School in honor of local citizen, Dr. George M. Hampton.
The significance? Mills E. Godwin is an ex-Governor of Virginia and leader of the “Massive Resistance Movement” launched to thwart the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. His political cronies and he closed public schools and diverted tax-payer dollars to fund “white-only” private schools. Many African-American students were denied an education or had their studies delayed for years.
The alternative? Dr. George M. Hampton is an 87 year-old African-American philanthropist and educator who is politically and civically active for the betterment of his county and for citizens of color living therein. This “simple” act of name-changing represents the community’s rejection of a legacy of racism and the establishment of a new, living image of character, conduct and academic achievement for the Hampton Middle School students who are predominantly African-American and Hispanic.
For the unfamiliar, Amherst College is a small, Massachusetts college which is ranked the 2nd best liberal arts college in the country by U.S. News & World Report and 9th of all U.S. colleges and universities by Forbes Magazine in 2015. Their original mascot was “Lord Jeff,” named in honor of Lord Jeffery Amherst, for whom the town and college are named. Lord Jeffery’s notorious claim to fame is that, as a senior British officer during The French and Indian War, he ordered the delivery of blankets laden with the smallpox virus to native tribes. The disease laid waste to innumerable natives who had no natural defenses to the disease.
An overwhelming vote by students and faculty to vacate the mascot was made official on January 26, 2016 after students at this majority-white institution protested the message of racism projected in honoring the genocidal acts of “Lord Jeff.”
Now, we have learned that the image of Harriet Tubman, Moses of The Underground Railroad, will replace that of Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill and that images of notable suffragettes will adorn the back of the $10 bill.
The overall meaning of this change? In difference to his popular image, Jackson, through his actions and directing actions of others, represents a history of staggering brutality and savagery against native tribes. He was also an unrepentant slave-owner and supporter of that institution. By contrast, Ms Tubman’s efforts to secure freedom for those held in slavery and her work for the Union Army are more consistent with the ethos of our nation.
Moreover, the images on the reverse of the $10 bill will enhance our appreciation of contributions of women to national development and prosperity. It’s hoped these “visual reminders” will dispel stereotypes which limit the groups represented by these changes.
Change can be very good and, if lessons are learned, can lead us past intolerance to mutual respect.
Dr. E. Faye Williams can be reached at: 202-678-6788, or at: www.nationalcongressbw.org