Friday, February 16, 2007

What's in a name?

Apparently quite a bit at C.M. Goethe Middle School in Sacramento. The school is named after Sacramento real estate tycoon and philanthropist, Charles Matthias Goethe. There is also a county park and a local road named after him as well. There is currently an effort underway to erase Goethe's name from the school. *You may have to register to read the article.

The controversy is that C.M. Goethe, who was born in 1875 and died in 1966, was a white supremacist and a supporter of eugenics. This doesn't sit well with some parents and staff at the middle school, which is located in the Meadowview area of South Sacramento. This area is mostly minority, high poverty, and high crime. The people who live there are precisely the kind of people that C.M. Goethe proposed be bred out of existence through eugenics. There is a movement brewing among many Meadowview residents to change the name of the middle school.

Believe me, I understand where the complainants are coming from. If some American city had a Che Guevara Middle School, I wouldn't be too enthused about that either; especially if my kid was attending it. On the other hand, Che wasn't a local philanthropist who donated millions of dollars to the community with the intention of making it a better one; C.M. Goethe did that for Sacramento. So the dilemma is, do you choose to recognize the good works the person did, or do you focus on his personal failings?

I know it would be a very easy thing to do if they just changed the name of the school and were done with it, but what kind of Pandora's Box is being opened if they did this? Let's look at some other examples of what can happen shall we?

Henry Ford - He was an anti-semitic xenophobe, and made no secret of this fact. However, he also made the automobile affordable for the common man and helped to change our society forever in a very positive way. Every time the fam and I drive the three hours to my parents' house that would have taken over a week on a horse, I can indirectly thank Henry Ford. I don't own a Ford automobile, but millions of people do. Should we stop buying Fords because the founder of the company hated Jews? And how about the Ford Foundation? It gives away millions of dollars every year; usually to leftist causes I might add. What should we say about all these organizations who have no problem accepting grant money from a foundation named for an anti-semitic xenophobe?

Robert Byrd - The geriatric senator from West Virginia was once a member and recruiter from the Ku Klux Klan. In response to the integration of our military, he was quoted as saying that he would never fight, "with a Negro by my side. Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds." Senator Byrd is a master pork barrel politician, and there are dozens of buildings, roads, and bridges named for him in West Virginia. Should all those names be changed because Senator Byrd belonged to the KKK and made no secret of his disgust with the black race?

Margaret Sanger - The founder of Planned Parenthood, and one of the patron saints of the pro-abortion crowd. Sanger believed in eugenics just like Goethe did, but I don't see the benevolent and tolerant members of the political left wiping their hands of her or her Planned Parenthood organization.

George Washington - He owned slaves for goodness' sake, yet our nation's capital city (which is predominantly black by the way) and one of our fifty states is named after him, along with countless towns, colleges, and organizations. Do all those names need to be changed?

Speaking of slaves, I noticed something amusing in the Sac Bee article. A seventh grade student at C.M. Goethe Middle School was asked by the reporter what the name should be changed to. The student threw out several suggestions including Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks, and Ulysses S. Grant. I know he's only a seventh grader, so I will give the kid a pass, but I was amused by his choice of Ulysses S. Grant. Although his generalship saved the North from defeat in the Civil War, throughout the war, Grant was a slaveowner; he only gave up ownership of his slaves after the 13th Amendment - which outlawed slavery and involuntary servitude - was ratified in 1865.

So what to do about this whole name issue at C.M. Goethe Middle School? My take on it is that there are a lot more pressing issues in the Meadowview area of Sacramento that these busybodies should be worrying about. How about the violent crime, illegitimacy, poverty, lack of education, gang warfare, shootings? I suggest that the people working toward changing the name of the school would be better to focus their efforts on changing the face of their community.

Good Day to You, Sir


George said...

Perhaps we should number our schools.

The school at which I teach has a non-descript name, and the mascot has very little connection with the appearance of the students - a viking - nordic, almost hitler's ideal look.

And yet, the behavior of vikings is very akin to the students I teach - to lay waste, destroy, pillage, and loot.

CentFla said...

A good discussion topic. I wonder if Mr. Goethe recanted any of his racist leanings before dying. I understand that Byrd and Ford did so. You say Mr G was a philanthopist, but to whom did he spend his time and money? Other racist ventures? (Still, Byrd is the worst of the worst in DC next to the nut in Alaska that builds bridges to nowhere and $90K Wm. Jefferson in LA. How can people like that be reelected?)

How would you as an educator feel if a NY school took the name of Hugo Chavez since he is donating heating oil to that neighborhood? Just curious.

For me the issue would be what the parents want who have children going there. They are the ones paying for the school primarily, if they do not get to decide who on earth does? You called them busibodies but I don't think that moniker applies if they are complaining about a school in their own neighborhood.

Darren said...

Dr. King cheated on his wife--J. Edgar had the tapes to prove it. Should we now denigrate Dr. King for his personal failing, and ignore all the good he brought to us?

Chanman said...

Again, Centfla, I'm not against the parents changing the name of Goethe Middle School if that is what they want. I just want to know - as you read from my examples - where this ends? How far are we willing to go to erase our past? And my main point is that Goethe Middle School has much bigger fish to fry than its name. How about abundance of social pathology in the Meadowview area that needs addressing? I don't think changing the name of that school is going to help. It ends up being a bunch of wasted energy that community activists could have expended on a more useful cause.

John Hughes said...

This post has been nominated for The Sacramento Bee's roundup of regional blogs, which appears Sunday in Forum. As part of an unofficial program, you can help decide which blog posts are included by voting at

The Sunday newspaper column is limited to less than 800 words. Blog posts
included in the column are often cut to fit. No editing is done other than
to add ellipses to indicate deleted passages. The blog's main address will appear in The Bee, and the online copy of the article will contain links to the
actual blog post.

A list of the regional blogs monitored can be reviewed at

If you have questions (or you DON'T want your blog post considered for inclusion
in the newspaper column), contact me at

John Hughes

Darren said...

Dang, Mr. Chanman, you're always getting nominated for those Bee reprints. Right on!

I love to point out that that bastion of tolerance, Berkeley, was named after a slave-owning Anglican priest. Time to change the name!