Marin Voice: The history we honor and the art we destroy
By NOAH GRIFFIN |
July 13, 2019 at 10:44 am
Embers once thought dead oft sleep beneath the ashes. I’m sure that’s what the Dixie School District Board of Trustees thought when they deep-sixed two decades of effort to change the Civil War-era nomenclature which has haunted Marin for more than 150 years.
Dixie changes name to Miller Creek Elementary School DistrictThey were wrong. A dedicated group of activists led by Kerry Peirson and trustee Marnie Glickman succeeded in changing the name Dixie. It is now Miller Creek. Even that alteration was not without its controversy.
While the originally proffered name of Miller Creek was first seen as an acceptable alternative to Dixie, it was voted down not once but twice by the current board only to resurface at time of this week’s vote, circumventing the process of the board’s sanctioned naming committee.
By this time, many in the community had moved on, rejecting the name Miller Creek on the grounds it indirectly pays homage to James Miller who designated the original Dixie school in the first place from which the district took its name.
The board disingenuously stipulated that Miller Creek should not be taken to refer to James Miller but for the nearby watershed. Opponents charged it was “Dixie by proxy” as the watershed was named for Miller.
It’s akin to replacing a “Robert E. Lee School District” with a “Lee Creek School District” and then denying the two weren’t related.
Marin can take cold comfort that at least it grappled with the issue more sensibly than what seems to be taking place at George Washington High in San Francisco.
In the case of the Washington High murals, the Works Progress Administration commissioned art depicts the founding father in all his complexities. A farmer, surveyor, plantation owner and “Indian fighter.” Opponents of the mural persuaded school board members in a 5 to 0 vote to spend $600,000 to paint over the murals. They claim portraying enslaved African Americans and defeated Native Americans is demeaning to students of color, damages their psyches and distorts other aspects of their history not portrayed in the mural.
As I understand it, the commission formed to study the matter included no people opposed to destroying the murals. In doing so, the board failed to honor the understanding of muralist Dewey Crumpler, who painted a more revolutionary portrayal of modern day freedom fighters alongside the Washington mural with the understanding the original art would not be touched.
In the district formerly known as Dixie, no change-the-name supporter ever demanded they tear down the original Dixie School House or rename it. Put up a plaque and explain the history which now can’t be denied.
Unlike the Dixie deniers who disclaimed the Civil War history, the Washington murals depict it and, in so doing, the discussion should invite an embrace of the artists, writers and the creative minds to come to terms with both the shortcomings and triumphs of history. We don’t do that by concealing our country’s legacy. We do it by putting our ideas, understanding even feelings up for debate.
In doing so we open ourselves up to the views of others, including those who have pondered these issues while creating literature out of past events.
We need to listen and look closely at the issues. We can’t do either by censoring thought or erasing art.
The silver lining in the Dixie controversy is, after a series of healthy hearing and community input, the true history emerged. The community was educated and a resolution allowed the district to move forward.
At Washington High, the fight is far from over. With the national attention focused on the issue, there could yet be another outcome based on overwhelming public opinion to keep the murals.
History will win out.
Noah Griffin of Tiburon is a public affairs consultant, speaker and musical performer. He is a former public member of the IJ’s editorial board.
Editor's Note: As reader's know, Save Marinwood was an early supporter of changing the name of the Dixie School district in order that we could honor the Miwok that inhabited the land for 4500 years. A large settlement "Cotomko'tca was on the grounds of Miller Creek middle school. To us, there was an obvious problem with naming the school district "Dixie" in 1863. It was the same year as when we were embroiled in the Civil War, Lincoln freed the slaves, Gettysburg was fought and thousands of Americans were dying. Two weeks prior to Marin County naming the district "Dixie" , Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address. Naming it "Dixie" in 1863 for any reason was an exercise in poor taste.
Though we remain strongly for the Dixie name change from the beginning of the discussion, we never endorsed the "Change the Name" tactics of calling our community racist. It was a deliberate attempt to hold the community hostage to political correctness and grossly unfair to the residents. Noah Griffin continues the attacks.
Why does the Marin IJ allow him to troll our community and ban all community comments and letters to the editors that provide our point of view?