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Slave-owners, patronizers, and eugenicists: Where do we draw the line when it comes to glorifying historical figures?




Following the Charleston Massacre schools with Confederate roots such as this one located in a predominately African American neighborhood in Tampa, Florida are coming under scrutiny.
Following the Charleston Massacre schools with Confederate roots such as this one located in a predominately African American neighborhood in Tampa, Florida are coming under scrutiny.

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With the Confederate Flag falling from favor across the country, a question has come to the fore: where is the line when it comes to glorifying or castigating historical figures?

For Southerners, this could mean reevaluating their relationship with heroes such as Confederate General Robert E. Lee (who even has schools named after him in Long Beach and San Diego). For Westerners, Father Junipero Serra has come under scrutiny as revisionist history calls into question his treatment of indigenous Americans. For Northerners, icons like Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. are now viewed with disdain for having supported eugenics.

Of course, all Americans have come to understand that the men commonly referred to as the Founding Fathers were deeply flawed by modern standards. Most of them owned slaves, a practice that is seen as morally reprehensible today. In addition, presidents such as Thomas Jefferson supported policies that displaced indigenous Americans from their ancestral lands.

How should the lives and accomplishments of historical figures be put into the context of their times? Is there a firm line between those we celebrate and others we denigrate? If so, where is it? If not, what standards should we embrace in delineating our heroes from our villains, and how will those standards change with time?

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