Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

New US Ambassador for Nigeria

New US Ambassador to Nigeria

New U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria meets President Buhari

The new US ambassador to Nigeria, Stuart Symington, submitted his credentials to President Buhari on December 1.

You may have recognized his name. I did. His family has been well-known in US Democratic political life for generations.

His grandfather was a Missouri Senator from 1953 to 1976. And his father served in the U.S. House of Representatives for eight years to 1977.

New US ambassador to Nigeria Stuart Symington

New US ambassador to Nigeria Stuart Symington

The article in Premium Times says, “Mr. Symington has a broad background in U.S. policy, with experience supporting peacekeeping missions, democratic transition and consolidation, counter-terrorism, economic development, and public health.”

He is a career diplomat. He has spent several years in Africa and on the Africa desk. He served in Rwanda, Central African Republic, and Djibouti. He was most recently the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Central Africa and African Security Affairs.

I found his picture on Wikimedia.

I hope he and his wife Susan enjoy living in Nigeria.

Yale Renaming Committee

You may recall the controversy of the last couple of years about names of residential colleges at Yale University. Calhoun College’s name has been debated for decades. It became a particularly hot point of contention after the Charleston shootings.

John C. Calhoun's name, still at Yale

John C. Calhoun’s name, still at Yale

Should the university continue to retain the name of someone deeply implicated in racist beliefs?

John C. Calhoun was born in South Carolina in 1782. He graduated from Yale in 1804. He returned home to run his family’s plantation while he practiced law. He entered public service, was elected to his state legislature and then to the federal House. He became vice-president under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson.

He was a major defender of slavery. He believed in the rights of states, and he also found the institution valuable for economic reasons.

He didn’t believe that the Africans, or for that matter, native Americans, were in any way equal to white people.

Sent to Committee

After months of extended debate, the Yale President Peter Salovey announced that the name would remain. But that generated more controversy. So he appointed a committee to wrestle with the issue. They were not specifically to settle the Calhoun question. Instead, they were to “articulate principles to guide the University in deciding whether to remove ‘a historical name from a building or other prominent structure or space on campus.’”

Salovey wrote to the Yale Community on Friday to say the committee has issued its report.

He said, “Questions of naming and commemoration raise difficult but important discussions. These are complicated intellectual and moral issues faced by universities and other institutions around the world. From the outset, I have sought for Yale to bring its scholarly resources to bear on this subject of national and international import.”

Yale University Economist Sharon Oster

Yale University Economist Sharon Oster

I was pleased to see that Sharon Oster, my econ professor at the Yale School of Management, was on the committee. She wrote an acclaim ‘blurb’ for my memoir.

I’ve read most of the report. Its twenty-six pages are certainly clear, scholarly, and thoughtful.

I especially liked this paragraph which speaks of the expertise of Yale faculty.

“Scholars of cultures around the world wrote to share with us different ways in which renamings, for good and for ill, have symbolized change. Psychologists shared with us the findings of a literature on the effects of salient stereotypes on academic performance. Linguists brought to our attention the ways in which names can function as signals of affiliation and exclusion. Philosophers drew careful distinctions among ways of remembering.”

I enjoyed reading Section III A, “Renaming around the country and around the world.” Section III, B, 1. which starts on page 12, reviewed Calhoun’s life and achievements.

I was prepared to find nothing of merit. I can’t get over his views on slavery and people of color. However he was a highly respected constitutional scholar.

I loved this sentence. “In particular, and ironically, devices designed by Calhoun to protect the interests of white slaveholders are now deployed as institutional defenses of minority interests against majoritarian tyranny.”

I learned from the report that Calhoun’s name was not used after his death in 1850 because of his views on slavery. But in the 1930’s it was given to the residential college, because, “Ironically, . . . he seemed unlikely to engender controversy among the University’s students, faculty, and alumni. To the extent the name would be able to help draw students from the South, it seemed to hold out the prospect of a certain kind of diversification of the student body.”

As I learned from discussion around The Half Has Never Been Told, the 1930’s was a period when most white Americans – those in charge at Yale and other institutions – did not acknowledge the injustice or horrors of slavery.

Other Challenges

Other institutions of higher learning have also been challenged about names and the legacy of slavery.

I wrote about Georgetown University a few months ago. That institution has been contacting descendents of slaves sold by the university in the 1800’s. They decided to offer admissions priority to these descendents.

They also decided to rename two buildings.

Attucks The School That Opened a City

I just saw the film Attucks The School That Opened a City. produced by Ted Green and Indiana Public Media. Fay Stevenson-Smith showed it for those in our Baker’s Dozen Book Group who could come to her house this afternoon.

This Indianapolis high school proudly took the name Crispus Attucks. Do you remember him? I remember the name but I’ll have to do a little research.

She attended the all-black high school and is interviewed in the film. It’s a powerful story of a community’s response to racism.

Here’s a preview.

I’ll tell you more next time.

Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.

2 Comments

  1. Interesting topics, all of them. Wish I could have seen the Attucks documentary.