Letter: Why We Should Not Name Holidays After Real People
To the Editor:
In January of 2018, in a column that was not to be published, I wrote:
"The Pittsfield School Committee has renamed 'Columbus Day' 'Indigenous Peoples Day.' Frankly, I think we should do away with the practice of having holidays for any individual. There are three people that have federal holidays named after them: Martin Luther King Junior, George Washington, and Columbus. All three were great in their own respects, but all had faults too egregious to actually give a holiday to them." I had argued, "'Martin Luther King Day' should be 'Civil Rights Day.' 'Washington's Birthday' should be 'Democracy Day.' 'Columbus Day' should be 'Discovery Day.'"
It is a foresight few were willing to make, and frankly was too controversial for publication not so much for its criticism of Washington, but for the criticism of Dr. King. Perhaps this is too self-congratulatory, but it amazes me how my once seemingly controversial statements, over the course of time, come back as indubitable truth.
I had wrote, when writing of Columbus Day:
"The hard reality is that the other two men who have federal holidays had egregious faults. The evidence is particularly clear that Martin Luther King engaged in widespread plagiarism in his doctoral dissertation and in other papers. He not only was a minister who cheated on his wife, he seems to have done it over and over again with different women, and not just a single mistress. Moreover, I think the evidence suggest it is more likely than not — though by no means close to certain — that King has used monies of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for prostitutes. It is beyond peradventure that a tape of him in sexual congress was sent to his wife. With respect to changing the name of the holiday, the Civil Rights Movement was not about any one man, but a movement of the people."
While pseudo-scholars were lambasting Columbus for admittedly evil deeds when serious academics were giving staid consideration to arguments that the evils that were perpetrated upon indigenous peoples were actually done by people other than Columbus, ("sources" were often rivals who had reason to malign), these same phonies on YouTube were largely ignoring facts about Martin Luther King and Washington.
Let me lay waste to Washington swiftly with my past words: "whatever debate there may be about the role of Columbus in Spanish misdeeds, it is a sad, indisputable fact that Washington owned about 317 human beings. It is claimed that by law Washington was not free to emancipate his slaves, but if such were the case, the honorable thing to have done was to not follow the law."
That said, I wrote, "George Washington is to be remembered for not becoming a king after the American Revolution, but our first president. He could have easily have been a dictator like Napoleon after the French Revolution. But Washington stepped away from power, thus giving rise to all the modern democracies across the world." It is this that should be taught, along with his moral failures, in high school, for it is this nuanced reality, the good with the bad, that is the truth.
I don't say this to be politically correct, but I have great respect for the Martin Luther King. As a man that has faced the potential of great physical harm for his political beliefs and for support of basic human liberties, an experience that very few actually face, I have enormous admiration for a man who faced infinitely more of it than I.
Yesterday, as I write this, stories came out with headlines such as "Sealed FBI audio tapes allege Martin Luther King Jr. had affairs with 40 women and watched while a friend raped a woman, a report claims," from Business Insider. The London Times broke the story. The source seems very credible. David Garrow, a socialist historian whose biography of King titled "Bearing the Cross" won a Pulitzer Prize in 1987 for biography, wrote: "A huge archive of documents recently released from Federal Bureau of Investigation files exposes in detail King's extramarital sexual activities with dozens of women as he traveled the country campaigning against racial inequality." Garrow added, "In another incident said to have been recorded by FBI agents, King is alleged to have 'looked on, laughed and offered advice' while a friend who was also a Baptist minister raped a woman described as one of his 'parishioners.' "
I wish I could say "I told you so," but I can say I tried to tell you so. Naming federal holidays after particular people is a fool's errand: when the devil's advocate challenges beatification by enshrining their name in a holiday, tremendous moral shortcomings manifest themselves and instruct against the practice.
Rinaldo Del Gallo III
The author is a local attorney whose columns have been printed in newspapers across the country.
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