In February, Tulane University authorities took a fixture of the university community into custody, charged it with abetting slavery, and confined it to an undisclosed location.
The alleged perpetrator, identified only as a “plantation bell,” had been at large since 1825. It had been at Tulane since 1960, when former Louisiana governor Richard W. Leche, an alumnus of Tulane and of the Federal prison system, presented it to the school.
The bell, using the alias McAlister Victory Bell, hid in plain sight at Tulane for 60 years. According to the Tulane Hullaballoo, students unaware of its sinister background rang the bell to celebrate basketball victories and commencement ceremonies.
Then, earlier this year, a university staffer wrote to president Fitts, exposing the bell as a threat to social justice, a colleague of bigotry and a shame to American higher education.
University president Mike Fitts and board chairman Doug Hertz reacted as you would expect “woke” university elitists should. They issued an email saying that they believed the bell was used to “direct the movement of enslaved people” during the dreadful years of slavery in our country.
Their statement said further, "Although we have made real progress in building a university that better reflects our community and our highest values, the bell’s newly discovered past is a powerful reminder that the most tragic and painful elements of our nation's history continue to echo through our communities."
I’ve got news for Tulane’s leadership: those echoes will continue to haunt our communities as long as university administrators, in the cause of political correctness, accuse an innocent plantation bell of being an instrument of slavery, as NBC News says they did.
Do Tulane’s president Fitts and board chairman Hertz have the faintest grasp of how silly this looks? Have they any idea of how many “plantation bells” hang in church towers throughout the Deep South?
Do they know that Tulane University sits on land once occupied by a sugar plantation? I can assure you that slaves worked that farm—which might make a far better object of opprobrium than a hapless hunk of cast metal.
Do they think Tulane should change its name because Paul Tulane (1801-1887) gave considerable seed money to the school? Tulane, a New Orleans merchant, gave more money to the Confederate cause than anyone in the city. After the cause became lost, Tulane contributed to the erection of Confederate monuments, including the one in the Crescent City’s Greenwood Cemetery.
Do they contemplate removing mention of the French Quarter from Tulane’s student recruitment materials? After all, the Quarter contains numberless buildings built by slaves using slave-made bricks.
Do Fitts and Hertz realize how much their action resembles that of an approval-seeking puppy with a fetched ball in its mouth?
The Associated Press commented thus, “The decision to remove the bell comes amid a broader push by universities across the U.S. to confront their historic ties to slavery and white supremacy.”
Let me re-state my own views on hiding the past. I agree — together with Robert E. Lee — that CSA memorials should have been restricted to graveyards. Gen. Lee said that monuments would be divisive, and as we have seen, he was right. My research did not uncover the general’s position on plantation bells.
I have read, and agree with, the writings of Holocaust survivors who applaud the preservation of unholy Nazi concentration camps. And their stated belief that education, not eradication, helps keep history from repeating itself. This kind of thinking, based on the Tulane incident, seems lost on entrenched academic elitists.
The United States does not have a blemish-free history. I’ll bet most of you don‘t either. I know I don’t. But heaping guilt on a campus community ignores that most Americans have learned from the mistakes of the past and do not intend to repeat them. The bell incident trivializes the horrific institution of slavery.
President Fitts has organized a committee to more fully investigate the bell’s origins. He and his colleagues are, in his words, “[trying] to find a way to use this bell to further our knowledge and understanding of slavery and pursue a more just society."
I say president Fitts and his committee should bang the bell with a hammer. It might wake them up.
William Jeanes is a Northsider.