The Cancel Culture Knows No Bounds. Where Does It End?

Contextualize this! Martin Luther King memorial in Washington, D.C. Photo credit: Parade

by James A. Bacon

Thomas M. Neale, a lead organizer of the University of Virginia alumni revolt, has written a letter with 200 co-signatories to the Board of Visitors decrying the “cancel culture” permeating the university. The board has voted to rename the Curry School of Education, remove the George Rogers Clark statues, and contextualize the Thomas Jefferson Statue on the Lawn, he says. Intellectual consistency, he argues, would require eradication of all segregation-era university administrators, regardless of their contributions to society, on the grounds that they all shared some taint of oppression.

If Thomas Jefferson needs to be “contextualized” then so do 100% of all Southern leaders prior to the Civil War. This should be extended to 20th century leaders if they presided over universities, businesses, towns, counties, villages or military units that practiced segregated policies. Throw in US presidents prior to 1964 who did not make ending Jim Crow a priority. This is not hyperbole. It is a logical extension of the Racial Equity Task Force’s recommendations.

We ask again… where does this end?

Neal asks an important question: Where does it end? No one at the UVa — or anywhere, for that matter — has articulated logical bounds for the creeping de-legitimization and eradication of past leaders. Cancellations have been applied arbitrarily amidst inflamed passions, and only against targets of Leftist disapproval. No one, I would observe, has suggested contextualizing Martin Luther King, America’s greatest Civil Rights hero, even though his misogynistic behavior, which would make Donald Trump look like a choir boy, should be regarded as grotesque by the #metoo movement. (See “The troubling legacy of Martin Luther King” for a horrific summary of evidence from FBI documents.)

Here follows the full text of Neale’s letter:

The signatories below and I are writing you in light of the Friday, September 11 Board of Visitors decision to act on the recommendations of the Racial Equity Task Force, among which is a decision to “contextualize” the Thomas Jefferson Statue in front of the Rotunda.

Many universities across America are renaming endowments, removing statues, and eradicating the names of prominent alumni/ae and benefactors whose names adorn university buildings and academic departments. The men and women whose names are being removed do not meet the ethical criteria or
societal norms of our 21st century culture according to the Faculty, Administrative leadership, and governing Boards of these universities. In short, these decisions are made, and judgments decreed, based upon revisionist historical analyses rather than the ethical norms and moral tenets that were prevalent during these men and women’s lifetimes.

I will cite two of the best known incidents since one is germane to a prominent UVA alumnus and the other is from a nearby respected university undergoing similar internal critical Progressive self-analysis:

  1. Princeton University has decided to remove Princeton (and UVA Law) alumnus President Woodrow Wilson’s name from its prestigious School of Public and International Affairs due to
    his “racist thinking and policies.”
  2. Washington and Lee University has already removed General Robert E. Lee’s statue from university sponsored events. The Board of Visitors is now considering a faculty petition to remove Lee’s name entirely from the University after 150 years since then Washington College was renamed after his death. The stated reason is General Lee’s position as the preeminent leader of Confederate forces during the Civil War, and his ownership of slaves at his Arlington, VA plantation (which he inherited from his father-in-law, George Washington Parke Custis, but later freed). Three tenured African American W&L faculty members also want President George Washington removed from the university’s name since he was a slaveowner (Washington’s slaves were freed upon his death).

George Washington and Robert E. Lee were most certainly complicit in the moral stain of slavery. So were literally all US citizens who lived from Maryland south prior to 1865. England did not abolish slavery throughout the British Empire until 1834 through the Slavery Abolition Act, France did so in 1848, and Holland in 1863 to name just a few Western countries. This obviously does not mean slavery was remotely justifiable. However, it does point out that the mores of the times undeniably were drastically different from today. The abolition of slavery also did not mean that blacks were accepted as de facto “equal” members of society in any of these countries until late into the 20th century, not dissimilar to the United States which codified segregation through Jim Crow in the South until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed by Congress.

I will come full circle to the University of Virginia. The “cancel culture” has now permeated the University with a vengeance. On Friday, September 11 the University Board of Visitors voted to enact the following:

  • Rename the Curry School due to J. L. M. Curry’s links to the Jim Crow policies of Virginia that existed during his lifetime.
  • Remove and relocate the George Rogers Clark statue on The Corner, contiguous to the University Grounds, since he was a military commander who fought American Indian tribes.
  • Rededicate or remove the Frank Hume Memorial “Whispering” Wall outside of Newcomb Hall since Mr. Hume served in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during the Civil War.
  • Remove UVA law alumnus Henry Withers’ name from Withers-Brown Hall near the School of Law since Mr. Withers was also a Confederate soldier as well as a slaveholder.
  • Plan to pass a resolution authorizing University leadership to work with historians and other experts to “contextualize” the Thomas Jefferson statue in front of the Rotunda. Specifics remain vague.
    Enough is enough. Where does this end?

If Messrs. Curry, Hume, and Withers are to be condemned and eradicated from the University’s history, should we not remove ALL University administrators prior to 1865? To be intellectually honest, should we not extend this to removing all references to University administrators prior to 1964 when the Civil Rights Act was passed, since UVA was operating under the prevailing Jim Crow laws of Virginia and excluded blacks from admittance? I am sure there are numerous examples, but I will offer three for the consideration of the University’s Racial Equity Task Force:

  1. Rename Cabell Hall. Former Rector Joseph Carrington Cabell oversaw the creation of the Rotunda and Lawn from 1817-1819 with Thomas Jefferson. He therefore knowingly utilized African American slave labor during the construction of all buildings.
  2. Rename Alderman Library. Former President Edwin Alderman oversaw UVA from 1904-1931 during the heart of the Jim Crow era. He presided over a racially segregated University. President Alderman also delivered the memorial speech for Woodrow Wilson on December 15, 1924, before a joint session of Congress. Wilson, as noted elsewhere, is now persona non grata given his racist ideology, which by inference means President Alderman most probably sympathized with President Wilson’s racial philosophy regarding people of color.
  3. Rename Newcomb Hall. During former President John Lloyd Newcomb’s tenure from 1931-1947 the University remained a decidedly racist institution forbidding admittance to any black
    applicants. As a related footnote, eradicate any reference to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s June 1940 Final Exercises graduation speech during President Newcomb’s term as
    University President. FDR presided over a segregated US military during WWII while also illegally interning hundreds of thousands US citizens of Japanese descent during the war.

The signatories and I would like to have the Board of Visitors succinctly and unequivocally issue a letter of support for Thomas Jefferson. We are sending this letter before the Racial Equity Task Force finalizes its plan to “contextualize” Mr. Jefferson’s statue on the Lawn. We condemn any further attempts to “contextualize” Thomas Jefferson.

We are all aware of Mr. Jefferson’s accomplishments, but for the record, we would like to cite a few:

  • Author of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom
  • Member of the Virginia House of Delegates and House of Burgesses
  • Governor of Virginia
  • Author of the Declaration of American Independence
  • Congressman for Virginia in the Continental Congress
  • Ambassador to France
  • Secretary of State
  • Vice President of the United States
  • President of the United States
  • Founder of the University of Virginia

If Thomas Jefferson needs to be “contextualized” then so do 100% of all Southern leaders prior to the Civil War. This should be extended to 20th century leaders if they presided over universities, businesses, towns, counties, villages or military units that practiced segregated policies. Throw in US presidents prior to 1964 who did not make ending Jim Crow a priority. This is not hyperbole. It is a logical extension of the Racial Equity Task Force’s recommendations.

We ask again….where does this end?

The reality is that history is rife with countries and leaders who enacted policies that would be considered horrific by today’s moral precepts. We should not ignore these moral failings on the part of countries and leaders when viewed by today’s ethical criteria. Conversely, we must not erase the laudable aspects of leaders from these eras who were considered exemplary during their lifetime, nor should we continually berate them if they don’t live up to today’s mores.

Slavery was a moral stain on US history…..as well as ANY country that practiced this evil practice. That does not make all prominent leaders of these countries during the era when slavery was legal moral pariahs or individuals worthy of unceasing and relentless denigration. Thomas Jefferson is among the most accomplished political leaders in US history. He and George Washington are generally considered to be the preeminent Founding Fathers. We the undersigned unequivocally praise Mr. Jefferson and are justifiably proud of his herculean contributions to our Republic. We revere him as the Founder of the University of Virginia.

We ask the Board of Visitors to stop the unending self-flagellation about Thomas Jefferson’s slaveholding past, acknowledge his amazing lifetime of public service, and thank him for founding our University.

Thank you for listening.

Thomas M. Neale
College ’74
Baltimore, MD

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13 responses to “The Cancel Culture Knows No Bounds. Where Does It End?

  1. Funny that there’s no moral outrage for those last to abolish slavery. Mauritania made slavery a crime “way back” in 2007. It’s still not strictly enforced, however.

    “The last country to abolish slavery is jailing its anti-slavery activists”

    “Mauritania is the world’s last country to abolish slavery, and the country didn’t make slavery a crime until 2007. The practice reportedly affects up to 20% of the country’s 3.5 million population (pdf, p. 258), most of them from the Haratin ethnic group.”

    “For centuries, the black Haratins have been caught in a cycle of servitude enforced by the white Moors, who are lighter-skinned descendants of Arab Berbers.”

    https://qz.com/africa/763470/the-last-country-to-abolish-slavery-is-jailing-its-anti-slavery-activists/#:~:text=Mauritania%20is%20the%20world's%20last,slavery%20a%20crime%20until%202007.

  2. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    What will President Ryan and the Board of Visitors from Outer Space do about this gem on school property. The UVA Confederate Cemetery. Complete with a Johnny Reb statue and 1,097 secessionists waiting for removal, contextualization, and vandalization.

    https://www.findagrave.com/cemetery/2132655/university-of-virginia-confederate-cemetery#:~:text=The%20Confederate%20Cemetery%20at%20UVA%20is%20contiguous%20with,statue%20and%20monument%20stands%20close%20to%20the%20middle.

  3. “If Thomas Jefferson needs to be “contextualized” then so do 100% of all Southern leaders prior to the Civil War. This should be extended to 20th century leaders if they presided over universities, businesses, towns, counties, villages or military units that practiced segregated policies. Throw in US presidents prior to 1964 who did not make ending Jim Crow a priority. This is not hyperbole. It is a logical extension of the Racial Equity Task Force’s recommendations.”

    Great! More jobs for UVA liberal arts majors. No joke, if you read the push for equity among SSRI-addled English Lit students as a sublimated desire to make themselves employable in an increasingly tight job market, 2020 makes a lot more sense. When your future career depends on convincing society of the utility of your ideas, well, attempt to convince you shall. Rent-seekers gonna rent-seek.

  4. In Portland “generally peaceful” protesters tore down statues of Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln? Really?

    Liberalism is a mental disorder.

  5. When does Northam get cancelled? The outrageousness of his conduct of wearing blackface months before graduation from medical school has really been driven home to me. At the present time, my son is dating a woman who is in her last year of medical school. So she’s in the very same spot that Northam was when he took to blackface. Taking in her level of education and general good judgment, I find it inconceivable that a person with this much education and training would appear in blackface and have a photo placed in the yearbook sans protest.

  6. Maybe just no statues. Maybe, just maybe, that “no graven images” business really did mean all of them, not just of other gods.

    Of course, we could pass a law forcing all statues to have feet of clay to make toppling easier, and reducing the likeliness of injury in the process.

  7. My favorite is the demand that the Christian Cross hung in the Wren Chapel at William and Mary College be “contextualized.”

  8. Mr. Bacon – Why do some posts sit awaiting moderation endlessly, while others are online almost immediately? I have a post on Peter Galuszka’s article that’s been sitting there almost two hours. If I’ve broken a rule or something, it would be nice to know what it was.

  9. Those who give into this have not thought about where it ends or the consequences of trying to erase history. If the statue of Jefferson needs contextualizing for some students, they shouldn’t be at a university.
    On another issue, a friend of mine cautioned a group that “if you let them roll you early, they’ll roll you often.

    • You’re absolutely correct. College students need no contextualizing. But then, that means 25% of the population understand the whole of the man’s history.

      What’s your plan for the remaining 75%. You know, the 75% who are made up of white no-college males who are the subject of statements like “We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated!”

      Are we to allow them to continue with just the legend?

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