December 5, 1997 in City

Heroes They Were And Should Remain Don’t Revise History Judge Famous Figures Within The Context Of Their Times.

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Should Whitman College dethrone the pioneers for whom it’s named or do they still deserve respect?

It’s an indictment of our times that the 150th anniversary of the Whitman Massacre passed with little notice.

In fact, Whitman College in Walla Walla would like to disassociate itself from Marcus and Narcissa Whitman. “It would be easier if the school were named Lewis and Clark,” said history professor Thomas Edwards. “Everyone likes them.”

The Whitmans would fare better in the culturally sensitive ‘90s had they been explorers rather than missionaries. But then, few historical figures can pass muster today. Columbus is a bad guy now because his discovery led to European domination of the New World. George Washington was aloof. Thomas Jefferson had slaves. Never mind that they were courageous and achieved much that is good.

Historical figures and events should be judged by their times - not ours. They provide a common bond and lessons from which we still can learn. They shouldn’t be ignored or denigrated because they tap deep biases of our day. That’s not to say new perspectives aren’t welcome. However, the new voices are beginning to dominate our view of history. Two years ago, the University of California developed new history standards that overstated negative parts of American history, such as the Ku Klux Klan and McCarthyism, while neglecting Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington.

The Whitmans had warts like everyone else - including the American Indians they encountered on their hazardous way West. Bone-tired, Narcissa Whitman empathized in her diary with the Indian women she met “who are continually traveling in this manner during their lives, and know no other comfort. They do all the work and are the complete slaves of their husbands.”

We need to study the Whitmans because they lived Northwest history. Narcissa was the first white woman to cross the Rockies. Her doctor husband tended whites and Cayuse Indians alike. Later, he helped lead the first major migration of settlers to the West. Ultimately, the Cayuses, decimated by measles, murdered the Whitmans and 11 others. In Cayuse culture, a medicine man who failed to save his patient forfeited his own life. In 1997, we’re willing to understand that point of view.

We also should be willing to respect the Whitmans, an indomitable pioneer couple.

, DataTimes MEMO: See opposing view under the headline: Whitmans notable, less than admirable

The following fields overflowed: SUPCAT = EDITORIAL, COLUMN - From both sides CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board

See opposing view under the headline: Whitmans notable, less than admirable

The following fields overflowed: SUPCAT = EDITORIAL, COLUMN - From both sides CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board

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