School named after Lynch family to be renamed because of racial connotations

July 26, 2017 • 9:00 am

Let’s start off today with a short news item from OregonLive. A Portland-area school named after the family who donated the school’s land (as well as two other schools with the family’s name) will be renamed because that name, “Lynch”, has racial connotations:

The national movement to change racially offensive names of buildings, sports teams and landmarks will soon touch a group of schools in southeast Portland. Lynch Meadows, Lynch Wood and Lynch View elementary schools will shed their “Lynch” before the upcoming school year in response to growing concern about the word’s racial connotations.

The schools, part of the Centennial School District, were named for the Lynch family, which donated land over a century ago to build the first of the schools. But Centennial Superintendent Paul Coakley says many newer families coming into the district associate the name with America’s violent racial history.

The upcoming change is a new step in a movement that, in Oregon, has focused primarily on names insensitive to Native Americans. Several geographic landmarks whose names included the term ‘squaw’, now considered a slur against Native American women, have been renamed in recent years. And in 2015, the Oregon Board of Education backed advocates in a controversial move that pushed 14 Oregon high schools to change their Native American-themed mascots.

Now that movement, most prominent on college campuses, with professional sports teams and among state geography boards, has reached the elementary school level.

The News Tribune adds this:

Centennial Superintendent Paul Coakley told reporter Janaki Chadhasays while there is no connection between the Lynch family and the often racially motivated, murderous practice associated with the word, it’s still been, “a disruption for some students.

 “There were an increasing amount of questions and some complaints from families of color around the name,” Coakley said.

While I agree that some mascots are ethnically insensitive and should be ditched, and that the word “squaw” is offensive, I can’t agree that a school named “Lynch” should be renamed because it could offend or disrupt some students.

If we’re going to eliminate some words because they’re homonyms or contain sounds or allusions that resemble, but have nothing to do with, ethnic slurs or terms like “lynch”, then we’ll never stop renaming stuff. Anything named “White,” for instance, could be and probably is disruptive to some.

There are limits to how much we should cater to people’s sensitivities, and this is beyond those limits. Although the word “Hebe” is a slur on Jews,  and I’ve been called that, I have no objection to the word “hebephrenia,” or “hebephrenic”, a form of mental illness. And I can’t be bothered to stop using the word “niggardly”, which antedates the “n-word” by several centuries and has a completely different root.

This is a symptom of the fulminating Offense Culture, and while some complaints are justified, this one isn’t. It’s not our job to cater to the sentiments of the most easily offended, though we should always consider claims that have real merit. Sometimes you just suck it up and move on—or change your reactions.

Photo: Eric Apalategui, Special to the Oregonian)

h/t: Gary

76 thoughts on “School named after Lynch family to be renamed because of racial connotations

  1. Besides, the place is named after a person by that name. What that has to do with anything is nothing. Down in Arizona they name schools and everything else after the first Americans. They also name many schools after Lincoln and Washington – such racism. Leave your history at home if you cannot see it in it’s own time. Lincoln was probably quite dirty because he did not take many showers.

  2. And look.. no more watching of David Lynch films, ok? We do not want anyone to err… get offended in anyway.

      1. Family Guy had a joke riff about an out-of-control FCC censoring reruns of the Dick Van Dyke show. It was rendered as “The (beep) van (beep) show starring (beep) van (beep).”

        That was about 5 years ago, which is apparently the time frame for reality to catch up to absurdist satire in our modern age.

  3. Lynch is an Irish surname, meaning “of the long-ships” (Loingseach). There’s also an English Lynch of Norman “De Lench” origin.

    People claiming to be offended by the surname come across as uneducated yahoos.

    1. I agree. It sort of comes back to my favourite saying of people who don’t know history being doomed to repeat it, and those of us who do know it are doomed to watch as everyone else repeats it.

      What I want to know is why they just can’t make the effort to educate people? Every student at least should know where the name of their high school came from. Why should the gift of the family be forever ignored because the school is too lazy to teach a five-minute lesson in assembly once a year?

    2. Exactly, what if the Irish (who have on occasion, and with no noticeable awareness of the exaggeration, self-described ourselves as “the most oppressed people ever”) were to decide that this “deplatforming” of an honourable Irish surname amounted to racial discrimination? The same point has been made about the cultural appropriation of St Patrick’s Day (who. Was himself apparently appropriated from Wales).

  4. On the other hand, we should not hold on to the past just to hold on to the past. Our contributions are ephemeral. Some will be lost. Ideally, we should balance these conflicting concerns. I can’t see a particular reason to retain the name in this case, much like I have no problem with the replacing of Andrew Jackson on the 20. Is there a compelling reason to get rid of the name? Not to me, but in the absence of a compelling reason to keep it why would I be concerned about the change? I would worry about the slippery slope argument, and about existing pushes to remove history that are significant, but I’ve never been a fan of the slippery slope argument. I’d prefer to battle change that is destructive and to save my concern for those, more important, battles.

    1. I don’t think the OP or others criticizing this in the comments necessarily care if a name is changed. What they are criticizing is the reason that the name was changed in this particular case.

    2. What if someone named Lynch wanted to endow a new school or college today, should the money be turned down?

      (I must add though that I am personally uneasy about rich people who want to put their names on public institutions.)

      1. NO problem — as long as it doesn’t create the Lynch Law School..

        Perhaps a better rationale for change is that Centennial had 3 elementary schools named for the donors in a single school district. And the variants — Lynch View, Lynch Meadows, Lynch Wood — seems to suggest a historical occurrence that a free-standing Lynch might not.

    3. The only slippery slope I detect here is there is not much concern for the past, even the recent past. And how would you know about destructive change if you care little about the past.

      1. My perspective is that I don’t wish to hide the past, by which I mean I don’t want to pretend that something didn’t happen. I fully support the removal of confederate monuments in the South, an issue similar to, but more significant than, this one. However, I think it is important to teach the history of the South, slavery, and the Confederacy. Donor names, or politician names on roads, airports etc… are simply things that will change over time. I don’t care about that. Your place in history can’t be bought, only leased. I’m OK with that. In fact, I’m not a big fan of naming things after donors at all, though I understand that you may have to court them with a plaque as philanthropists commonly like recognition.

        1. There is a great deal of difference between a statue of General Lee on his horse and flying the confederate flag. If you do not understand this, well the history teach did not finish the job. In the town I am from they named their airport after my grandfather and I won’t go into all the reasons why they did that. I also will not lose any sleep if they rename it something else next week. People who made history and did good things are worth remembering and it has nothing to do with courting but then you seem to not care about that even though it was you who said it.

          1. Both of the things you mentioned make good sense in museums. Neither makes good sense in the public square. We may differ in opinion on that, but that does not reflect my, or your, understanding of history.

          2. Randy — there must be a distinction, but the intended meaning of the flag and the equestrian statue are pretty much the same as I see it.

            Though I’ll allow that a couple of tons of bronze that’s stood for a century-plus at least has more gravitas than the wind-worn StarsandBars on a jacked-up pickup.

          3. Actually the statue is of a real person who was a great general, although one who fought on the wrong or losing side as far as we know. However he was a great military man as many were who fought as enemies in many wars. The flag is nothing more than a reminder of slavery and an insult to most African Americans. If you think the same of Lee as you do of the confederate flag then I suppose we should march to Arlington cemetery and remove that house that once belonged to Lee? And just for the record, Robert E. Lee did not care anything for slavery or have slaves. He unfortunately had to make that decision whether to fight for the North or go with his state, Virginia, when it departed from the Union. Many people sided with their state in those days and before.

          4. Randy is right here. General Lee may have fought for a bad idea but he was an honorable man and a great military leader. He deserves recognition. There are other people from the CSA who do as well.

            The flag is a whole ‘nother thing.

          5. I sort-of agree with you, Randy, but not entirely. It matters what one fights for. Lee choose poorly when the time came. I see little honorable in that, regardless of what his battlefield skills may have been (not so good during the Gettysburg campaign, as it happens).

          6. Randy — Did Lee “care anything” for slavery or have slaves. Lee had possession of the Custis estate and its slaves following his father-in-law’s death [yes, his wife’s, but this was the 1850s!]. Since you’ve evidently been to Arlington, I’m sure you remember the slave quarters! Despite Custis’ will directing manumission of the slaves, this was not done until well into the Civil War, a formality at that point since the Union occupied his estate and he had no prospect of re-acquiring land or slaves.. With his army position taking up his time, he contracted out the management, including beatings and pursuit of runaways. But there is every reason to believe he was quite aware of this. Lee’s wife was more visibly involved in devolution of slavery, through the Liberia project, but again, no evidence that she reduced her estate in the process.

            Lee’s letters and other writings on slavery are not surprisingly contradictory, but a charitable read is that he thought slavery a necessary evil, more evil for whites than for the blacks [he presumed they were better off than in Africa — if only because they were converted to Christianity].

            Again, I’m very happy to see the Arlington estate — to remember the human cost of these palatial southern homes. And I don’t think every last Lee statue needs to come down. But if there’s ever a real shortage of copper and tin, these representations of southern “heroes” would be a good feedstock for the foundries.

          7. IMO, Arlington National Cemetery is the one fitting monument to Robert E. Lee. It is appropriate that his home is surrounded by the graves of soldiers who died protecting their country from soldiers like Lee, traitors who fought to defend on of the least honorable institutions ever devised.

            I see no reason to sugar coat history and pretend the Civil War was anything other than a horrible conflict fought over the “right” to enslave people.

    4. Incidents like this feed into the current outrage culture, which encourages people to find any little thing to be offended by, and then insists they be catered to.

      I’m not worried about a slippery slope as much as a cumulative effect.

      1. Well, we know Trump won’t forget him. He did get very upset you know, about the civil war. Even thought, he was dead many years before it was fought. Jackson was always a damn poor choice for the $20. He was an idiot when it came to finance or economics and destroyed the Bank of the U.S. Putting him on money is kind of a joke really.

        1. I’ve got a cartoon in a post I’m writing that has Trump showing Mahmoud Abbas a portrait of Jackson at the White House and saying, “If Andrew Jackson had been a little later we wouldn’t have had your Civil War with the Israelis.”

  5. So, how long before people with the Lynch surname will be forced, by threat of civil action, to change their names?

  6. My last name is also a racial slur, less commonly used today than when I was young. My grandfather came here from Ireland. His family spelled it differently (like the German spelling; Kuhn) but the immigration officials changed it.

    My childhood was one of constant taunts and fights. On the upside, I can take a hell of a punch. Some of my earliest memories are of anxiety should a teacher call out my last name. That would remind others what it was and after school fights would invariably happen. My sons bear the name but neither has experienced any blowback because of it. For that I am grateful for the forgetfulness of our society.

    1. Ignorance comes in all forms. Tell them you are named after a majestic animal and then bunch them in the nose.

  7. What are they teaching the kids in these schools? I was taught that homonyms are created because of the limited number of sounds the human throat can produce in conjunction with the limited number of sounds our ears can distinguish. I was also taught the difference between nouns, verbs and proper names. In this case, they want to erase a family’s legacy (are there no more Lynches in their telephone books?) without even the excuse that they might have been slave owners or nazi supporters or whatever. I wouldn’t even accept those as excuses – shall we rename Washington DC and erase the Father of Our Country from the history books?. How ironic that the schools will lose the perfect teaching moment. Keep the Name and Teach the History.

    (I heard that New York used to name their schools with numbers – P.S. 17, 18, 19, etc. They could go that route.)

    1. There is actually a huge difference between renaming Washington D.C. and removing George Washington from the history books. While I don’t see the need, I imagine that the time will come for the former (likely not in my lifetime). If St. Petersburg can be Lenningrad, and St. Petersburg again, Washington can be Obamaton or Clintonville. The world will continue. I suppose the most likely scenario now is Trumptonia, but perhaps it will remain Washington until the nation collapses completely.

      1. Yes, that makes lots of sense. If Russia can do it, why not us. After all, we are working for Russia now anyway.

    2. It was common in the Cleveland area to name schools based on the street or community they were in, so I went to Monticello Jr. High, which was on Monticello Blvd. But then Thomas Jefferson’s house was called Monticello and he owned slaves and the students are now largely black. Will wait to see if someone gets offended.

  8. Hard to believe this comes 17 years after Philip Roth’s novel The Human Stain, a satire of political correctness in which a professor’s career (and life) unravels after he inquires whether a pair of students who haven’t attended class all semester are “spooks” (as opposed to actual, corporeal human beings).

  9. The names “Randi”, “Lund” and “Chute” offends me, as they are swear words in my language.

    Given the changing demographics of US and Canada, wonder what words will not be deemed offensive in future

    1. Curious which language.

      A friend of mine from Oz once told me that where she came from “root” meant something very different to what we USans mean. We played together on an ultimate frisbee team and when it was said to “root for our team” she used to giggle…uncontrollably.

  10. There’s a story that’s told as to how the Lynch name came to be a synonym for hanging.
    James Lynch, a fifteenth century mayor of Galway, is reported to have had a criminal son. When none of the usual executioners would hang the mayor’s son, the mayor did it himself. The window from which the son was hanged is preserved in Galway as the Lynch Window Memorial. I don’t know if the story is true, but it’s appears to be a prominent part of Galway lore.

  11. The OED gives this origin:

    Etymology: < the name of Captain William Lynch + law n.1
    The particulars supplied by Ellicott (see quot. 1811 at main sense), together with other evidence, clearly establish the fact that the originator of Lynch law was Captain William Lynch (1742–1820) of Pittsylvania in Virginia. According to Ellicott, ‘this self-created judicial tribunal was first organized in the state of Virginia about the year 1776’; an article in the Southern Lit. Messenger (1836) 2 389 gives the date definitely as 1780.

    I don’t think this changes the fact that renaming the school is risible.

  12. Too bad this didn’t come up last year. The complaint could have been brought before the Attorney General of the United States….Loretta Lynch. For good measure, she’s black.

  13. Oregon State University (OSU) in Corvallis and University of Oregon (UofO) in Eugene also are dealing with renaming issues of buildings on campus that were named for “racists”. At OSU, the names associated with buildings, perhaps to be renamed are: Arnold, Avery, Benton and Gill. At UofO the names are: Deady and Dunn. I had no
    knowledge of their roles in Oregon history (and doubt that many other people have). I haven’t yet researched who these dastardly folk were. But, how can historical names attached long ago to buildings harm sensitive black students?

    Should we also not name landmarks of whatever type for blacks, hispanics or native Americans? Further down the road, will we have to change the name of Chemawa Indian School in Salem (named for the Chemawa band of Kalapuya Indians) or remove Martin Luther King’s name
    from a main thoroughfare in Portland? What new naming conventions will be agreed upon that will, temporarily, be considered harmless?

    1. Why would we need to change the name of MLK Blvd? Did MLK commit some atrocities I’m unaware of? That said, perhaps, in time, we will rename those streets. Times change. If the community desires to recognize a hero who saved us all from nuclear annihilation or some other such danger (perhaps a person who is key to ameliorating the effects of climate change or overcoming antibiotic resistance), might it not be reasonable to change any name?

  14. I grew up in Connecticut not far from a town called Uncas. Uncas was named after a Mashantuckett Pequot Sachem who led the Niantic Pequots in numerous wars, including an infamous one with the Narragansetts another of the Algonquin tribes in the area. Some details of that war are known because a horrific incident in that war was witnessed by Europeans.

    Uncas and his warriors caught a group of Narragansetts within their fortified village (the fortification was a tall wall built of wood posts). They set fire to the wall which spread to the quonsetts (long wooden communal homes with thatched roofs common among the Algonquin). As the Narragansetts fled the Niantics, led by Uncas, slaughtered every single one of the women and children and most of the men.

    Some of the men were saved for a ritual that was, apparently, common among the Mohicans, Pequots and Narragansetts; they tied the men to stakes, cut off their hands and feet and and applied hot coals to their cuts they made in their bodies, leaving them to die a slow tortured death.

    Should the town be re-named?

  15. 1) The school district will be returning the land (or its current value) to the Lynch descendants? Neither did New Orleans when they renamed some of the donated McDonough schools (they also renamed ones named after George Washington).

    2) Hebe was the Greek goddess of youth and cupbearer to the gods.

  16. 1) The school district will be returning the land (or its current value) to the Lynch descendants? Neither did New Orleans when they renamed some of the donated McDonough schools (they also renamed ones named after George Washington).

    2) Hebe was the Greek goddess of youth and cupbearer to the gods.

    1. That was the name of the Greek Goddess but she has nothing to do with the slur. “Hebe” is to “Hebrew” as “Jap” is to “Japanese”.

      1. I wonder why it is that the contraction of a nationality’s or cultural identity’s name (another is the contraction of Pakistani by removing “stani” (which my conditioning will not let me type)) is often considered to be a racist insult. I am British but I do not find the word “Brit” offensive.

  17. Should not 69 be removed from the list of integers?
    Or is it 96? That one keeps your back warm sometimes.
    At least WD40 won’t be renamed WD39. That happened temporarily in the badly but temporarily car-accident damaged brain of a math prof friend of mine. Had it been permanent, and if it were general in that all integers had been renamed in that brain with a difference of 1, the mind boggles at the dept. chair needing to explain beforehand quietly to the students that they had a brilliant prof with a dyslexia which meant e.g.that he’d say (correctly) that 7+11=19.
    I happen to be a Platonist who believes that the integers actually exist, and are independent obviously of any local space/time notation for them.
    So 69 would disappear from notation.
    Can’t make an integer disappear, in particular because it never emits photons anyway.

  18. If the district thinks that the word “Lynch” by itself is offensive, why don’t they just add the first names of some of the Lynch family members? Would the “Barbara Lynch High School” or “William Lynch Elementary School” still be offensive?

  19. This decision is clearly pandering to ignorance. It is pathetic that the district bureaucracy has chosen the lazy route of not educating. Lynch is an Irish name with seagoing connotations. I know this because it took me a minute to find it online on a reputable website Morons who make decisions like this apparently do not have the first clue what education – ‘leading out’ – actually is. They ought to resign in shame but I assume they’re too fucking stupid to understand why that might be an option.

  20. I was going to write a response of polite outrage like almost everybody else here, but when I got to the photo of “Lynch View” I changed my mind. I think, in that particular case the school has a point.

    If you came across Lynch View or Lynch Meadows without any context, you might, indeed think “oh they did lynchings here in the past”. Now whilst I do not think naming places after bad things that happened there is wrong – a few reminders of the real horrors of racism are no bad thing IMO – I think that would be inappropriate as the name of an elementary school.

    However, rather than expunge the word “lynch” I would tweak the name so that the context becomes more obvious. Perhaps add the first names of some of the family members. “Mary Lynch View” for example, would bar completely innocuous.

    1. Good idea, Jeremy P.: “However, rather than expunge the word “lynch” I would tweak the name so that the context becomes more obvious. Perhaps add the first names of some of the family members. “Mary Lynch View” for example, would [appear] completely innocuous

  21. For the racialists out there of every stripe, how about making it a “teaching moment,” a starting point for indoctrinating their little minds with your biases? Try instead to teach history of the Lynch family and their importance to the community, the gesture of generosity and gratitude after years of hard work these schools represent? Impart some skills in genealogy as they research the name, as Grania S. suggests.

    Bloody idiots the lot of them.

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