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Sunday, July 9, 2006

Penny Lane, the Slave Trade, the Beatles, and Monuments

Penny_lane This morning's paper brings this news: that Penny Lane of Beatles' fame was named after James Penny, an eighteenth century Liverpool merchant who engaged in the slave trade.  There's a move afoot in Liverpool to rename the streets named after slave traders.  Of course, Penny Lane isn't going to be renamed.  Not even the proponent of the renaming supports that.

Much as Penny Lane is in our eyes and in our eyes, the slave trade is closely related to our history.  Seemingly everywhere we look, we see connections to the era of slavery.  There's a lot of talk about renaming things--parks, college buildings (Vanderbilt University's Confederate Memorial Hall is the most prominent example here), and now streets.  Seems to me as though there are at many competing issues here, including:

whether by removing names, we forget the lessons of the past;
whether by removing names we inappropriately dishonor people who deserve recognition;
whether by removing names we inappropriately break with tradition;
whether by keeping names we honor people who do not deserve that honor or provide support to a cause we don't mean to support.

I had some thoughts on the United Daughters of the Confederacy lawsuit against Vanderbilt last fall while visiting over at co-op.  Until now, the connection between Penny Lane and the slave trade has been (largely) forgotten; now we're talking about it again.

Endnote: The photograph of Penny Lane comes from Twang's musings.

UPDATE: This morning's Seattle Post-Intelligencer also has an article on the movement for reparations, which has been slowly gathering momentum at the local level.  The movement, the article points out, has shifted largely to the local level and to talk about Jim Crow, rather than slavery.  I discuss this in Reparations Pro and Con, which will be out shortly.

Alfred L. Brophy
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