Point: If memorials to the Confederacy should be torn down, so should the Amherst name

By William Keve

(Collegian File Photo)

“Could it not be contrived to send the small pox among those disaffected tribes of Indians? We must on this occasion use every stratagem in our power to reduce them.”

In the 18th century, Jeffrey Amherst wrote the preceding question to Colonel Henry Bouquet, a fellow officer in the British army. His letters go on to specifically call for the use of biological warfare. He referred to natives as “an execrable race” and agreed in principle with the use of dogs to hunt them down.

While Amherst served as Commander in Chief of British troops in North America, he supported giving Native Americans blankets embedded with the smallpox virus and the use of any other tactic to “extirpate” the race.

The supremacist ideals that Lord Amherst embodied are more commonly associated with slavery, Jim Crow and the Ku Klux Klan, but northerners must accept that white supremacy isn’t exclusive to the South and hasn’t only targeted African Americans. Every day that I live in Amherst, I am complicit in subconsciously revering a potential war-criminal who condoned treating Native Americans like animals. If our ancestors were too blind to see Jeffrey Amherst for whom he was, and chose to name a town after him, fine. They have to live with their legacy. But in the 21st century, there is no reason that we cannot disown Lord Amherst’s atrocious record. It’s time to disassociate this incredible town from a supporter of biological warfare.

On September 5, Dallas, Texas voted to remove its statue honoring Robert E. Lee. Another Lee statue was removed from Duke University on August 19 and dozens of monuments to other confederates have been torn down over the past year, as they should be. Viral campaigns like #notyourmascot by the National Congress of American Indians and other groups have called for the removal of appropriative mascots such as the Washington Redskins. These noble steps toward vilifying racism should be commended. However, efforts to rename Amherst have so far been unsuccessful.

How can we ask Texans and North Carolinians to take down appalling monuments to the past if we won’t do it ourselves? Yes, the costs to taxpayers and to small businesses would temporarily pose an obstacle to the renaming of Amherst, but supporters of so-called “confederate pride” can make administrative and economic arguments against tearing down statues and renaming streets as well. What does echoing white supremacists say about the legitimacy of our refusal?

William Bowen, the vocal proponent for the change, may have suggested confusing replacement names or used inflammatory rhetoric regarding Nazis—but these distractions don’t excuse what Lord Amherst stood for.

It won’t be easy or free to do the right thing; it usually isn’t. It would certainly entail choosing a name that not everyone agrees on. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what the new name is or who is leading the charge against Amherst’s disgusting legacy. This town couldn’t possibly do worse than continuing to revere a man so antithetical to our values, while simultaneously calling for southern communities to make the hard choices that we refuse to.

William Keve is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]