Published: Oct 20, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Oct 17, 2012 07:02 PM
At 70, I am admittedly a product of a different age (Elvis was still in the building). It was, for example, a time when a school would never have been named for someone celebrated for living with a sexually transmitted disease.
Hard to believe, I know, but not so much in today’s Durham, which now boasts its own Magic Johnson Bridgescape Academy for at-risk youngsters. It is a Durham Public Schools program that shows promise, and I have no reservations about it. Go forth and prosper.
It’s the name that bothers me.
Sure, Magic put his own money into the program, which also operates in three other states, so he gets the naming rights. EdisonLearning, a for-profit education venture founded by entrepreneur Christopher Whittle, has a stake in the project, as does the U.S. Department of Education. If DPS wanted this program, it had no choice about the name.
Earvin “Magic” Johnson, one of the lodestars of the NBA, announced in November 1991 that had tested positive for HIV, the precursor of AIDS. Fortunately, Johnson’s wife and the fetus she was carrying tested negative.
Johnson first said he didn’t know how he had acquired HIV, but later admitted that he had slept with a lot of women during his career, many of them presumably NBA groupies. To his credit, he fought HIV to a standstill with the drug regimen then coming into use and went on to become a multi-millionaire through numerous business ventures.
Johnson today is accorded the status of an American icon, and no doubt he deserves much of the acclaim showered on him for good works.
Yet, consider this: In today’s multicultural, excruciatingly politically correct society, it is a point of pride to name an alternative school for a sexual profligate such as Magic Johnson, but not for, say, the thoroughly admirable George Henry White.
Yes, that George Henry White, the black congressman from North Carolina that you’ve never heard of. He served in the House of Representatives from 1897 to 1901. His mother was born a slave.
Unless you pay for it, as Magic Johnson did, it’s pretty hard these days to name a school or other public institution for a person. Well, in South Central Los Angeles you might get a school named for Che Guevera, but that’s still the exception, not the rule – yet.
Think I’m joking? In 1997 the New Orleans school board forbade naming schools after individuals who had owned slaves. That meant a school bearing George Washington’s name had to be renamed.
For that matter, only five of Florida’s 3,000 or so public school are named for Washington. But 11 are named for manatees.
Many of Durham’s older public schools bear the names of such notables as George Watts, E.K. Powe, James E. Shepard and C.C. Spaulding. It’s customary now, however, to name new schools after their geographic location (Southern High School) or natural features (Creekside Elementary) instead of individuals.
We Americans have lost something of inestimable value when we accord higher status to a Magic Johnson than to someone of much greater moral stature who, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, appeals to the better angels of our nature.
Lincoln, of course, embodies that very sentiment. But when did you last hear of a new public school named for him?
Bob Wilson lives in southwest Durham.