George Pyle: Yes, let’s change the name of a lot of things

A worker prepares to remove the Jefferson Davis statue from the Kentucky state Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., on Friday, June 12, 2020. (Ryan C. Hermens/Lexington Herald-Leader via AP)

“I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.”

— Thomas Jefferson, letter to James Madison, January 30th, 1787

Faced with the ongoing boredom of the social retreat from the coronavirus on the one hand and the invigorating uprising against racism on the other, there has been much discussion lately about what we should call things and who we should honor.

Among the more interesting proposals, carried in this section last week, was the idea that Brigham Young University needs a new name. Two-time BYU alum Tasi Young made the case that the second president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and founder of Utah was so overtly and disgracefully racist that he deserves no such honor.

Comments on picking a new name included BYOB University and, my favorite, Gladys Knight University, after the singer who is one of the best known members of the church outside Utah and who would bring some welcome racial and gender diversity to the whole enterprise. And which would mean changing the school’s athletic mascot from the Cougars to the Pips.

Sometimes it seems that the name of the LDS-owned university in Provo has already sort of changed its name to just BYU — initials that are just initials and don’t officially stand for any whole words. Most of the letters and comments and commentaries submitted to me routinely just call it BYU, as if the full formal name is just too difficult to type out.

It’s like how the American Association of Retired Persons has sought to broaden its appeal by formally changing its name to just AARP.

BYU, or whatever you call it, is owned by the church, so its name is their business. But it is everyone’s business to say that it is time to change the name of Dixie State University, a state-owned, publicly funded college way down yonder in St. George.

The official reason for the name of the school and, informally, of the region, is that early LDS settlers made a go of growing cotton. But the history of the school is replete with Confederate images and names, a burden it won’t fully lose until it loses its unfortunate name.

The school did remove a statue of Confederate soldiers and change its athletic mascot from the Rebels to the Trailblazers. (Though there was a push to keep the name Rebels but change the iconography from the Confederacy to the Rebel Alliance of Star Wars.)

There’s already a Southern Utah University, north of St. George in Cedar City. Southerner Utah University? Virgin State? (For a nearby river.) Zion University? (For the national park.) Downwinder U.?

St. George State has an obvious appeal for me. I’d have fun wearing school swag with my name on it. Though a little googling reveals that the city was named for an early LDS poobah who has been tied to the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Perhaps we best not go there.

It is high time that we recognized that the Confederate States of America was an open act of treason, one that was centered on the desire to perpetuate the belief that not only was slavery a worthy economic system but that white people were inherently superior to black people in all aspects.

Thus monuments to the Confederacy and its heroes should be removed from all public places.

I would argue that there is a significant difference between honoring, as we do, people such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, who were steeped in the culture of slavery but who accomplished great things, and revering Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Nathan Bedford Forrest, who would be totally lost to history except for their devotion to the preservation of slavery.

There is a difference between honoring people in spite of bad things and honoring people because of bad things.

All those statues of Winston Churchill all over England? Sure. He was the original anti-fascist, standing firm against Hitler.

But statues of Churchill in India? A nation whose subjugation he supported to the end? Nope.

On top of everything, it is just a good idea to shake things up from time to time. Put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill already. Roll out a series of quarters with American artists and authors, starting with Mark Twain and James Baldwin. Make it routine to rotate the two statues each state gets to place in the U.S. Capitol.

It is always good to reexamine our history.

George Pyle

George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, is honored with a plaque at his old high school. It is, somewhat inappropriately in his case, in the gym.