It is refreshing and good to see young people once again getting actively involved in the ongoing struggle for social justice. There was a good turnout at this year's Juneteenth celebration at Yokuts Park marking the end of slavery in the United States.

Speaking of slavery, there have been images all over the news lately of statues of historical figures being forcefully torn down, everything from Confederate generals to ex-presidents to St. Junipero Serra of the Catholic Church. Their sin? Enslaving Blacks and indigenous people in the United States.

But instead of toppling statues a la Saddam Hussein, perhaps it's time to reconsider whether these figures deserve to have schools, parks and other public places named in their honor.

"It would be nice to remove their names from schools," said 18-year-old college freshman Kawanna Williams, who was among the throng at Yokuts Park. "The past is like repeating itself."

Schools in Bakersfield and elsewhere abound with names of those enlightened wise men who are credited with creating what would become the United States. George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson are among the better known. All slave owners. Not only that but at least one of them, Jefferson, fathered a child with one of his slaves, Sally Hemmings. Don't know if he ever paid child support. Female slaves had no legal rights to refuse unwanted sexual advances from their masters. Harvey Weinstein would have a field day. Off with their (statue) heads, some say.

Not so fast, say those who defend these guys. Their logic goes something like this: These founding fathers didn't really want to be slave owners; in fact, they abhorred it. It was a great moral dilemma for them and later in life, some even advocated for their freedom. But they had no choice because they couldn't get enough of their fellow enlightened statesmen to renounce slavery through legislation to end it right then and there. So they kept the slaves. And their mistresses. To have slaves during that time was the accepted norm.

"They may have accepted it then, but it wasn't normal," said Toccara Goodwin. The Bakersfield mother was at the Juneteenth celebration with her two school-aged kids in tow, hoping her children learn about the history of Black folks in this country. Goodwin said she agrees historical figures who owned slaves, ex-presidents included, should have their names withdrawn from public sites, especially from schools.

Others take a more cautious approach. "I applaud people trying to make change, but you need to tell the entire story," said Dee Slade, executive director of the African American Network of Kern County and a longtime leader in Kern's Black community. Slade is for having Black history taught as part of the curriculum in public schools.

Ex-Bakersfield police sergeant and former longtime member of the Bakersfield City School District board of trustees Irma Carson traced her ancestry to her great-grandmother, who was born a slave and emancipated at 16. Carson herself was born into segregation in Missouri and attended all-Black schools. Even so, no Black history was taught.

"I can see renaming some of the schools," said Carson. "But the real history needs to be taught so that when Black kids see that name, they will know what it stands for." Amen.

As for St. Junipero Serra, he's been a thorn in the side of California indigenous groups who see Serra as part of an imperial conquest that beat and enslaved Native Americans during Spain's conquest of the western United States.

The California Catholic Conference of Bishops, including Bishop Joseph Brennan of the Diocese of Fresno, is coming to Serra's defense. The bishops said last week that Serra was “ahead of his time” in defending the rights of indigenous peoples and that those who have called for statues of him to be removed or torn down “failed the test” of history. And if Serra isn't worthy of a statue, say the bishops, then "... virtually every historical figure from our nation's past will have to be removed for their failings measured in the light of today's standards.”

But wait. You can't just change history by destroying these statues and erase the names of the founding fathers. No, you can't. Rather, we can seize this moment to bring sunlight into darkness through education. There's a bill (AB 331) working its way through the state Senate by Democratic Assemblyman Jose Medina of Riverside to make it a high school requirement for students to take a course in ethnic studies focusing on the history, politics, culture, contributions, challenges and current status of ethnic groups in the United States.

Let's seize that moment. It's long overdue.

Contributing columnist Jose Gaspar is a news anchor/reporter for Telemundo Bakersfield and KGET. Email him at elcompa29@gmail.com. The views expressed here are his own.

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(12) comments

PopTart

While you're blathering all over these pages about schools named after historical "sinners", Jose...Why not focus your historical revisionism on the renaming of Caesar Chavez School?

"...we’re not supposed to remember that, in 1979, Cesar Chavez testified before Congress—not to demand more protection for illegal immigrants but to demand that the INS do a better job of removing them from the fields."

"And, ...We’re not supposed to remember that, in 1973, UFW officials set up a “wet line” on the Arizona-Mexico border to prevent Mexican immigrants from crossing into the United States.

This knife cuts both ways, amigo.

Zeppo

Pop Tart: Thank you!

Veritas

Also don’t forget, Delores Huerta was pushing the removal of illegal immigrants right there with Cesar Chavez. Then she changed her tune to suit her monetary supporters. Hmmm...

Zeppo

Boris25 Thank you!

Boris25

If this is the standard that has been imposed on society, we need to address the issue of some of the most liberal and left leaning universities in the US.

At Harvard University, slaves “served Harvard leaders" and "slave labor played a vital role in the unprecedented appreciation of wealth by New England merchants that laid the foundation of Harvard.” [8] Furthermore, “Harvard students slept in beds and ate meals prepared by slaves, and many grew up to be prominent slave-holders and leaders in early America.Isaac Royall Jr. was a wealthy merchant who donated lands and funds to the university. He also funded the first professorship in law. The Royalls were so involved in the slave trade, that, “the labor of slaves underwrote the teaching of law in Cambridge.

Columbia University (then known as King's College) was formed in 1754. Between that year and the end of the Civil War, ten men served as president of the school; of those, at least half were slave-owners, as were the first four treasurers of the school

Yale University is named for slave-trader and merchant Elihu Yale.

At Brown University, a wealthy merchant family accumulated wealth and gave often to the university. The Brown family were slave traders and often brutal ones. On one voyage aboard the slave ship Sally, 109 of 196 captured Africans died.

Georgetown University was struggling financially when in 1838 its president Thomas F. Mulledy developed a rescue plan. On June 19, 1828 Mulledy sold 272 enslaved people owned by the Jesuits of Maryland to slave traders in Louisiana.

Dartmouth College president Nathan Lord defended slavery in the lead up to the American Civil War, causing controversy and leading to his eventual resignation.

Zeppo

Is there anyone "pure" enough to have a statue erected of them? Not according to the BLM, et al, people. I don't think they want "justice." Like the Dems, they want total control over everyone. They don't know history so they are repeating it. Stupid, stupid, stupid.....

Zeppo

That's right, Jose, remove all of our history because someone is feeling "uncomfortable." Jose has always been a Regressive and Liberal. Also, there is no such thing as "social justice," only "justice."

Lilyrose

The disappearance of statues and faces on currency and currency itself. Replaced by commercialization.

The largest commercial supplier to the growing "have nots" is ? Yes, the country that already cleansed their history. The country which needs no physical battle with u.s. for they calmly and with a smile take your money, mind and soul.

The influencers of the day changes with the whim of mass. Influencers with no substance or time to collect a remembrance in 50 much less 200 years in which the "perfect" future citizens would bother to pour into the streets and object.

All Star

What about Cesar Chavez High School? He was against illegal aliens from Mexico taking jobs from legal Mexican citizens.

Inconvenient Truth

So was Dolores Huerta.

Hypocrites all around...

Inconvenient Truth

Interesting how the media always forgets to mention the darling of the Left, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who, 80 years after slavery was abolished, forcibly imprisoned 110,000 American men, women, and children at Manzanar merely because their skin was yellow.

When will the media call for the toppling of statues and monuments to the biggest race criminal of the 20th century?

Gene Pool Chlorinator

@IV: I'll give you three guesses and the first two won't count...

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