Rewriting the History of “Calhoun University.”

On June 13, 2020, Clemson University president Jim Clements proclaimed, “this was an important day for Clemson-a historic day for Clemson.”  Nothing could be further from the truth.  It was but another victory for historical revisionists and “presentism.”   

On the day before, University Trustees voted 13-0 to remove John C. Calhoun’s name from the University’s Honors College because he was a slave owner.  I had naively held out hope that Clemson’s history, including the Calhoun Honors College, would somehow manage to be stay separate and apart from the country’s racial unrest.   It was, nevertheless, swept up in the rage.   

Does anyone seriously believe that the Honors College was named for John C. Calhoun because he was a slave owner?  And listening to the conversation and speeches, you would think Calhoun had no other distinguishing traits.  No one has mentioned that John C. Calhoun was one of the greatest political thinkers in the history of our country.  No one has mentioned that he served as Vice President of the United States, was a US Senator, a member of the House of Representatives, and served in several Cabinet positions as well as several state legislative positions.  

In March of 1910, a statue of John C. Calhoun was placed in the United States Capital Building in Washington, DC.  The dedication ceremony featured speeches and proclamations celebrating the greatness of Calhoun.  47 years later, a committee chaired by then Senator John F. Kennedy named Calhoun as one of the five most outstanding, non-living, Senators of all time and placed his portrait in the Senate Reception Room.  Kennedy wrote of Calhoun, “Sincerely devoted to the public good as he saw it, the ultimate tragedy of his cause [did not] detract from the greatness of his leadership . . .”   In the 170 years since his death, none of Calhoun’s accomplishments have changed or been altered.  Yet all of that is being erased by the pop culture assertion that he was just a slave owner.

President Clements went on to say the Trustees wanted to, “fully tell our history and our complete history.”  How can you tell the complete history by eliminating part of it?  He praised the Trustees for making a clear statement about Clemson University’s values of respect, inclusion, and diversity.  Inclusion of everybody except John C. Calhoun, the father in law of University founder Thomas G. Clemson, through whose benevolence the school now exists.

Coach Dabo Swinney also spoke and had praise for the Trustees’ action, making a point about not being able to change history but to understand, learn, and listen.  Clemson’s President and Trustees also need to listen and learn.  Swinney correctly stated that we can’t change history, but by praising the Board of Trustees for their decision to remove Calhoun’s name from the Honors College that is exactly what Swinney and Clemson are doing.  He further stated that, “there are certain things we should no longer honor, glorify, or celebrate in this year of 2020.” His misguided inference is that John C. Calhoun has been honored, glorified, and celebrated for being a slave owner.  Coach, take your own advice, understand, listen, and learn.

Former Clemson football players Deshaun Watson and Nuk Hopkins now claim that they were, or felt, oppressed while at Clemson University.  Pray, tell us how.  During their playing time there, either one of them could have been elected mayor of the town of Clemson.  If they were oppressed, why didn’t they speak out while they were Clemson student-athletes?  Instead, they waited until they were millionaires under the yoke of the NFL players union to “courageously” speak out.

I am a third generation “Son of Clemson” and for 25 years, ending in June 2019, I served on a Clemson University Alumni Advisory Board for historic preservation.  Our specific interest was focused on historic properties including the Fort Hill home of both John C. Calhoun and Thomas G. Clemson.  During those 25 years of volunteer service this board dramatically increased public awareness of the University’s Historic Properties.  However, also during my time on this board, I observed an increased level of historical revisionism and “political correctness” directed toward both the historic properties and the founders of Clemson University.  The time has now come for Clemson University to take a stand against historical revisionism and defend the history of this exceptional institution.  Revisionists have proven time and again they do not have the capacity to accept history as it was.  They view history through the filter of “presentism.”  For example, they judge 19th century events by 21st century norms, condemn them, and then bully others into erasing them all in the name of equality.

If nothing is done soon, the relentless efforts of historical revisionists will ultimately render Clemson University void of its unique and wonderful history.  Then the University and its Alumni Association’s Advisory Board for Historic Preservation will have nothing left to preserve.

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