The University of Cincinnati will spend a semester examining whether it will continue to honor the legacy of its founder, businessman and slave-owner Charles McMicken. The move comes after the university’s student government voted to remove McMicken’s name from the College of Arts and Sciences.
For some, this is just another assault on history in a continuing culture war that includes the removal of Confederate statues and memorials. For others, it’s a way to confront our often-messy, heinous, complicated past, not just at the University of Cincinnati but in our society in general.
By the way, many of those Confederate memorials were erected during the 1910s and 1920s, and later in the 1950s and 1960s during the Civil Rights era, as blatant symbols of white supremacy, not to honor some sanitized notion of bygone Southern bravery.
History can’t be unwritten, even if a name is taken off a building, but that history has to be looked at with open eyes, talked about and confronted.
It’s not good enough to just tell people to “move on” and put the past behind them. It’s also not good enough to just take a name off a building or signage and claim moral victory. Whether the name remains or not, there should be lessons, discussions, and acknowledgment about the university’s history and the legacy — good and bad — left by Charles McMicken.
(UC isn’t the only local educational institution that honors someone with a complicated legacy. St. Francis Xavier numbered among the architects of the Goa Inquisition, a 260-year period of religiously-motivated terror targeting non-Christians in Portuguese India.)
One last thought: People should separate history from nostalgia. I didn’t go to UC, although my mother and brother did. I don’t have any warm fuzzies about anything related to the university other than going to basketball games during the Huggins era.
I did go to Lakota High School. Not Lakota East or West. The old Lakota, which vanished right after my graduation. It doesn’t mean I didn’t graduate from Lakota once the school ceased to exist or that my fond memories of the building are now less valid.
If the name is changed — and hey, maybe a slave-owner isn’t the best person to be a building’s namesake — it won’t mean that anyone’s personal history with the building and school goes away.