On the changing names

A recent article (“What’s in a Name? The Namesake of Yale Drive,” Jan. 10) hints at a broader matter than the issue of changing the names of schools and streets. As researchers pursue investigation of more historical figures, more crimes will be unearthed. This can proceed in a simple way, and a laundry list of names to be changed can be tallied.

Or we could change the most egregious ones, while, at the same time, we educate ourselves and our children about the true history of our country. That means much more than identifying a bunch of “bad guys.” 

Take Elihu Yale, for example. As mentioned in the article, he was an officer of the British East India Company in India, and presided over the slave trade there. The British East India Company was not just a commercial enterprise. It had its own army and ran the colony with brutal force. Millions died in unnecessary famines. British East India Company ships famously had their tea dumped in Boston harbor in 1775. Boston families with names like Perkins, Forbes, Cabot, Coolidge, etc., joined in the slave and later the opium trade and still today wield power as a result of wealth so gained.

However, this is not the real United States! As Abraham Lincoln detailed in his Cooper Union address, the decided majority of the signers of the Constitution, not only opposed slavery, they expected it to diminish and be eliminated in a foreseeable period ahead. The words, “All men are created equal ...” were not mere words. They were principles of a truly revolutionary form of society. 

Never before had such a society existed, where in its founding documents, human beings were treated, not as playthings or servants of an oligarchy, but as innately creative beings to be nurtured and educated for the benefit of all society. And the Constitution’s formulation, “in order to form a more perfect union...” should give us guidance that we still have work to do in a never-finished enterprise.


Hunter Cobb