Today’s News, Tomorrow’s History is the first in a new series with Listenwise. This series connects Facing History’s themes with today’s current events using public radio to guide and facilitate discussions around the social issues of our time. Our first post takes a look at debates in the United States about how we use historical figures and symbols as mascots in today’s sports teams.Until recently, the legacy of Lord Jeffrey Amherst - the most revered military leader of the British forces in North America in 1756 - lived on as the mascot for Amherst College in western Massachusetts. Known as “Lord Jeff” to the students and the surrounding community, the symbol has since been banned due to the historical figure’s actions toward Native Americans. Historians note that he encouraged sending smallpox infected blankets to native Americans while also speaking about them in racially derogatory ways.
The decision to ban the Lord Jeff mascot from campus gives heavier weight to the conversations many around the United States are having about the way we celebrate and use historical figures and symbols. At Princeton University, students are calling for the removal of former President Woodrow Wilson’s name on programs and buildings since he actively supported segregation. Yale University students have protested the name of Calhoun College, named for an American Vice President, who was a defender of slavery and a white supremacist.
What standards should we use as we understand the behavior of people in the past? Is racism relative to the culture a person lives in? Should contemporary contexts be applied to historical figures? Listen to hear more about how Lord Jeffrey Amherst’s history has entered into the debate over a college mascot.
Listening Comprehension Questions:
- What are the reasons some people see Lord Jeffrey Amherst as a symbol of hate and discrimination?
- Why do some people want to keep the mascot?
- How did students’ opinions change over time?
- How would you defend the college’s position? How would you defend the students’ position?
- Are there other places where history and tradition are competing with current contexts?
Join the conversation: When do you think historical symbols matter? Do you agree with the college’s decision? Why or why not?
Keep the conversation going with Facing History’s resources:
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