American icons or not, William Penn and Benjamin Franklin must go. Consistency requires it.
If Kate Smith became a nonperson for recording two songs more than 80 years ago perceived as racist today, and if Frank Rizzo is to be exiled because he is accused of racism, how can we tolerate men who actually owned human beings?
What started as the righteous ridding of Confederate statues has descended into the vilification of a singer, as if there were a moral equivalent.
My colleague Jenice Armstrong cheered Smith’s being trashed, but complained that YouTube deleted the offensive song. Ah, once you start down the PC road, it’s hard to stop.
Earlier this month, I was in France, where the Revolution started with the best of intentions, but degenerated into an orgy of revenge and score-settling by guillotine. It feels like that here now.
Penn was known for religious tolerance, but he owned slaves. We can’t abide 37 feet of him towering over the city. Take down the statue and snip his name off the commonwealth. We will become Sylvania.
It’s a double whammy for the University of Pennsylvania — named for a slave owner, Penn, by a slave owner, Franklin. It must be renamed, along with the Franklin Institute, the Parkway, and the Ben Franklin Bridge.
In this moral crusade, we can’t accept half measures. To avoid hypocrisy, Mayor Jim Kenney and Councilwoman Helen Gym must be at least as hard on the slave owners as they were on the former mayor.
We’ll rename Washington Avenue and tear down that statue in front of the Art Museum. George Washington was a slaveholder. Ditto Thomas Jefferson. No more Thomas Jefferson University or Hospital.
Much of America’s past is ugly and shameful when you make the mistake of judging historical characters by today’s morals and sensitivities.
That’s what happened to Smith, and I was surprised by the fervent glee shown by most African Americans. You’d think she was Bull Connor.
The two Smith songs in question are “That’s Why Darkies Were Born” and “Pickaninny Heaven.” They were among 3,000 she recorded. Does two out of 3,000 make her a racist?
In the early 1970s, the Daily News ran a picture of African American children in Fairmount Park. It was headlined “Pickaninny Picnic.” Is the Daily News forever racist?
The Flyers could have handled the racism issue the way the National Park Service — prodded by local lawyer Michael Coard — acknowledged the presence of slaves in the Washington household on Independence Mall. It used history to teach, not to smother.
Coard doesn’t want Penn and Franklin renamings. He prefers “conspicuous signage" — above buildings’ main entrances, in lobbies, on websites, telling the whole and unpleasant truth about the namesakes.
Right now, our moral scavenger hunt treats all racial offenses equally, as felonies worthy of the death penalty. But all offenses are not equal.
I have two suggestions.
First, as crime is divided into felonies and misdemeanors, we should recognize degrees of racism. A lyric isn’t a lynching. If actions physically hurt someone, that’s a felony. If feelings are hurt, that’s a misdemeanor. Kate Smith is a misdemeanor.
Coard agrees: “A white frat guy in college saying [the N-word] while trying to rap and a white Klan guy in the South saying it while trying to disenfranchise me are as different as a one-time sneaky theft is to a brutal robbery spree.”
Second, we should have a statute of limitations on statues, and other forms or art, broadly defined.
I would suggest one generation. You have an issue, state your case within 20 years. We can’t fight the Civil War forever.