April 11, 2009
Well, so much for Reneau and Waverley as names for Mississippi University for Women. In the case of Reneau, it''s a shame. We''re not sure how Waverley, the name of a Sir Walter Scott novel and, subsequently, the Clay County antebellum mansion, made the cut other than it begins with a "W," a pet name some want to preserve.
Reneau is a different matter. Without the efforts of the plucky Ms. Reneau, The W might not exist. Sallie Reneau has become a victim of history and political correctness. Like most people of means in the antebellum South, Reneau was from a family that owned slaves. And like most from the South during the Civil War, she strove to do all she could for the southern cause.
Fortunately, that cause was unsuccessful, and fortunately President Lincoln ended the institution of slavery, never mind it was for strategic more than ideological reasons.
After the war, the remarkable Ms. Reneau redirected her boundless energy on the Mississippi''s male power structure in her efforts for women''s education. Those efforts were eventually successful, leading to the creation of Industrial Institute and College for the Education of White Girls (Yes, that was the first official name of The W.).
In what has thus far been a tedious and unrewarding exercise, Reneau, Waverley and Welty-Reneau have made the cut in the more than 100 distinct names submitted for what will be the fourth name for the school. MUW President Claudia Limbert has since asked the Cirlot Agency, the group conducting the name search, to consider Welty alone.
A spokesman for the local chapter of the NAACP has objected to the name Reneau for the sins of her family and Waverley for its association with the antebellum mansion of that name, which was constructed with slave labor.
We could see reason to object if Ms. Reneau had been an active participant in the perpetuation of slavery. She''s been declared guilty by association, thus negating her heroic efforts that have benefited so many women, black and white.
Using that same logic, perhaps we need to rename the nation''s capital and find another face for the dollar bill. The father of our country, George Washington, owned slaves.
So did Thomas Jefferson, who is synonymous with the University of Virginia, and who is remembered in the names of towns and counties all over the country. Jefferson owned more than 100 slaves including Sally Hemings, allegedly the half-sister of his deceased wife, with whom he is said to have fathered children.
James Monroe owned slaves. So long to Monroe, La., and the Doctrine. While we''re at it, say farewell to James Madison U. Where does it end?
Slavery was and is a horrific practice, but that''s hardly the issue here. Renaming The W Reneau University isn''t condoning or glorifying that practice, any more than all the naming that''s been done to honor Washington, Jefferson and Monroe. It''s honoring Reneau for her role as an early advocate for women''s education.
Any other argument feels like political correctness run amok.