New School Deserves New Name

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), September 16, 2015 | Go to article overview

New School Deserves New Name


Byline: Jenoge Sora Khatter For The Register-Guard

Theodore Roosevelt Middle School in Eugene is scheduled for demolition and replacement by a new, as yet unnamed building. Inertia suggests keeping the old name; I think that would be a missed opportunity.

Of the 18 schools in the Eugene School District bearing a person's name, 94 percent are named after men and 94 percent after white people. This reinforces a pattern of discrimination whereby women and people of color are not recognized in local place names. Seldom do we get a fresh start, and we should take advantage of this chance to communicate our values.

Perhaps in the case of TRMS, there's a particularly great need for a name change. Most TRMS students have not studied Roosevelt's life or his presidency, largely because it falls outside the scope of U.S. history traditionally taught at the middle-school level. What would they learn if they did study him? Would they still want him honored? Would we? Even a brief look at the details should give us pause. I rely here on "Theodore Roosevelt on Race, Riots, Reds, Crime" by his son Archibald Roosevelt, "Theodore Roosevelt and the Idea of Race" by Thomas Dyer and "The Imperial Cruise" by James Bradley, the famous author of "Flags of Our Fathers."

Roosevelt's education at Columbia and Harvard taught him that people of Anglo-Saxon heritage belonged to an undiluted "Aryan-Teutonic" bloodline that had invented "civilization" and was destined to civilize, if not control, the world. To this end, he was against race mixing and believed people should be ranked by their race and national identity.

Referring to African-Americans as members of a "perfectly stupid" and "backward" race, he claimed they were in need of "training" from the "forward race" whose "responsibility" it was to bring them to a state of "high civilization." The greatest evil of slavery, he argued, was that European Americans had to share their society with African-Americans and regularly be in contact with them.

Of Native Americans, he reportedly stated, "I don't go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of every 10 are, and I shouldn't like to inquire too closely in the case of the 10th." Such comments are replete throughout his quotes and writings.

His racism affected his foreign policy as well. With Roosevelt's help, the Spanish-American War brought new territories under the jurisdiction of the United States, including the Philippines, which he saw as the next place for "high civilization" to embed itself. …

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