BY JEREMY KUZMAROV
Following the Charlottesville protests last month, a group of Tulsa residents set up a petition on change.org calling for the removal of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s name from a mid-town Tulsa elementary school.
The petition which was delivered to Tulsa Public Schools and Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum states: “No one wants to see Tulsa be the next Charlottesville. There’s not much we can do to fight against White Supremacists in America, but this is something we can do. We have control over whom we glorify. The solution? Hold a contest and have the Tulsa community vote for a new name, honoring a more respectable American hero.”
In the spirit of the petition, I propose that Robert E. Lee elementary be re-named after Woody Guthrie, the legendary folk singer who hails from Okemah, not far from Tulsa.
Other Oklahoma schools should consider doing the same.
Woody is a great American hero whose ballad This Land has been adopted far and wide and was sung by Woody’s protégé Pete Seeger at the inaugural ceremony of America’s first African-American president in 2009.
Woody Guthrie was a brilliant creative artist whose ideals are ones we should want all of our kids to strive for. He was an independent critical thinker and visionary.
Woody was also a great patriot who fought for the United States in the Great War against Fascism. He stood up for human rights and sang against injustice throughout his career.
Following his stint in the Pacific War, Woody expressed concern about the victims of the U.S. atomic attack in Hiroshima and potential for nuclear war bred by the Cold War arms race and spoke out against questionable U.S. foreign policies such as the Truman administration’s support for pro-Nazi collaborators in the Greek civil war and dictatorial governments in China [Jiang Jieshi] and South Korea [Syngman Rhee].
Woody also foreshadowed the critique of the Occupy Wall Street movement in expressing outrage at the excesses of Wall Street and the Big Banks in a view shared by a huge number of Americans. He wanted a fair economy in which laborers were adequately rewarded for their work.
The goal of education should be to foster the creative spirit and critical thinking capacity of our young people and to instill in them a social conscience so that one day they may too speak out against injustices and work for greater equality and fairness and a better society.
I can think of no greater role model to inspire our young people than Woody Guthrie and thus propose that Robert E. Lee School and other area schools considering name changes be named in his honor.
– Jeremy Kuzmarov teaches at the University of Tulsa and is author of Modernizing Repression: Police Training and Nation Building in the American Century (Massachusetts, 2012) among other works.