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Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015 08:57 am

Calhoun County revisited

Speaking of things Calhoun: In “Naming rights and wrongs” I remarked on a suggestion from Rich Miller to rename Calhoun County. That bucolic corner of the state, you might know, was named to honor South Carolinian senator John C. Calhoun, who in his later years was an apologist for slavery and a preacher of secession. Miller argued that the state of Illinois does itself and history a dishonor by allowing one of its counties to honor him; I concluded that the way to come to terms with the state’s past is to understand it, not change it. “The study of John C. Calhoun won’t teach us much about secession or slavery we need to know,” I wrote, “but understanding why the people of 1825 Calhoun County chose to name their home after him can teach us about Illinois’ past that we do need to know.”

In its print edition of Oct. 3, 2015, The Economist took up the naming issue editorially. The editors support the right to adorn oneself and one’s property with, say, Confederate symbols. They also argue that American children must know about these figures, but that “does not mean they should occupy space in town squares and on the walls of capitols.” 

As to what to do about places and things named for the likes of slaver owners like George Washington or Thomas Jefferson or the Indian-hater Andrew Jackson, the magazine insists, “It is possible to distinguish between someone whose principal contribution to history was ultimately baleful and someone, such as Washington, whose failings were subordinate to their claim to greatness.”

Concludes The Economist, “the memorials . . . that are features of many small towns should be left alone. But it would be better if state and city authorities chose to retire their state-sponsored likenesses of Confederate leaders and vocal segregationists to museums, where they can be studied but not celebrated.”  

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