Kudos to those earnest folks who are working to change the name of Lake Calhoun. It would be all too easy for them to ignore this problem and concentrate instead on such things as the 50 percent of southern Minnesota lakes that are too polluted to swim in or fish, or the dangerously low water levels of lakes and aquifers. But this renaming movement has priorities. They realize that though John C. Calhoun may have been a great senator (he was named by a Senate committee in 1957 as one of the five greatest U.S. senators of all time), he was also a rabid racist.
However, in the name of consistency, renaming Lake Calhoun should be only the beginning of the cleansing of our history: There are many renamings left to go. Here’s a few that must be changed after jettisoning Calhoun.
• Washington Avenue has to go. George Washington had 10 slaves before he was 12 years old. It’s generally agreed that Washington used harsh punishments against his slave population, including whippings. He held his slaves to the end of his life. Washington may not have been the rabid slavery defender that Calhoun was, but he is tainted with the same brush.
• And though it will definitely diminish the work of Garrison Keillor, Lutheranism has to go, too. Not the religion, of course, but just the name, because of the sorry anti-Semitism of founder Martin Luther. In 1543, he published “On the Jews and their Lies.” In that book, Luther says that Jews are a “base, whoring people … full of the devil’s feces … which they wallow in like swine.” He suggests that synagogues and Jewish schools “be set on fire” and that Jews should be drafted into hard labor. Still, some Christians looked favorably on the Jews because their doctors were Jewish. Forget that, Luther says. Some of the Jews may “pose as physicians,” but they “administer poison to someone from which he could die in an hour, a month, a year, ten or twenty years.”
• After we have accomplished these momentous renamings, we should then start an urgent national movement to get Andrew Jackson off the $20 bill. One of Jackson’s nicknames was “Indian Killer,” for his role in using the U.S. Army to defeat Indian tribes. In his military campaigns against Indians, he recommended that after his army had massacred their tribe, troops systematically kill any remaining Indian women and children. A year after his election he proposed the Indian Removal Act, which legalized ethnic cleansing in America, taking over 25 million acres so it would be open to “white settlement and slavery.” Jackson drove the Cherokees to their “trail of tears,” where 4,000 people died of cold, hunger and disease on the way to Western lands.
And these suggestions are only the beginning of the cleansing effort. Among names that need to go are Ford Parkway (Henry Ford was a notorious anti-Semite); Nina’s Coffee Shop in St. Paul (shockingly, every day, children pass by this coffee shop named for a former St. Paul prostitute); Minneapolis’ Fremont Avenue, named after John C. Fremont, who was court-martialed for mutiny and insubordination, and many more.
Though this splurge of renaming may seem daunting, it offers us a great opportunity for creativity.
For Lake Calhoun, why not shoot for the stars and name it “Lake Dasani,” after the Coca-Cola owned bottled water product. Not only would that give the lake a nationally known name, but I’ll bet Coke would be willing to pitch in and make some large donations to improve “its” lake.
Washington Avenue could easily be changed to honor our only Quaker president by renaming the street Nixon Avenue.
As far as the $20 bill goes, how about replacing Jackson with a presidential candidate who has banksful of them, Donald Trump?
The Lake Calhoun renamers may well start a movement across the country, and a nationwide frenzy of renaming could result. And who knows how far it will go? Perhaps we may even get rid of that partisan pro-immigration poem at the foot of the Statue of Liberty.
Steve Kaplan lives in St. Paul.