Every time Detroit seems ready to lift itself out of the mire it’s been wallowing in for the past half century, it sinks back into the ooze. The latest case of swampiness as usual in Motown came on Jan. 9, when the Detroit school board adopted a new policy that bans the naming of school facilities for living people.
No, the move wasn’t a reaction against erstwhile Congressman-for-life John Conyers, the octogenarian veteran of 52 years in the House who “retired” in December after he was accused of sexually harassing female staffers. Past school boards somehow never got around to naming a building after him. In any case, Conyers’ predicament certainly wouldn’t have forced such a change.
Instead, the target of the policy is that devious, divisive and deranged Detroit native … Ben Carson. Yeah, that guy — the respected neurosurgeon who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 and now serves as the secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
The Dr. Benjamin Carson High School of Science and Medicine opened in 2011 with a good bit of fanfare. It’s not often that a Detroiter who grew up in poverty with a single mom goes on to earn a bachelor’s degree at Yale and a medical degree at the University of Michigan. He then went on John Hopkins University School of Medicine’s neurosurgery program and an extremely successful career as a practitioner.
The school’s website proclaims: “As a pediatric neurosurgeon formerly on the staff of Johns Hopkins Hospital, Dr. Carson was honored with the 2008 Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contributions. The school aims to honor the contributions Dr. Carson has made not only to the global medical community, but also as a role model for Detroit students with aspirations and interests in science and medical fields.”
But that’s not good enough for school board member LaMar Lemmons, who pushed the name-change policy. While the board’s resolution didn’t mention Carson, Lemmons was clear that it targeted the HUD secretary. To its credit, the board wasn’t totally sold on the idea; the motion squeezed through on a 4-3 vote.
He said his main reason for sponsoring the policy change is that the school was named when a state-appointed administrator had total control over the school district because its finances were in shambles. But he was clear that Carson’s political beliefs played a big part in the move.
“He is a so-called conservative Republican,” Lemmons told the Detroit News. “A strict constructionist is one that wants to take the Constitution literally. If one takes that as a stance, it would allow the enslavement of those of African descent. When you align yourself with (President) Trump that is a direct affront to the city of Detroit and the students of Detroit.”
Perhaps someone should tell Lemmons that Carson – like the vast majority of Americans – undoubtedly supports the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery.
While last week’s resolution didn’t mention Carson, Lemmons vowed to bring up changing the school’s name at the board’s Feb. 13 meeting.
What’s galling is that another Detroit school, the Bates Academy, really could use a name change. The academy, a magnet school for talented and gifted children, is named after Alonzo Bates, a longtime school board member who became notorious for using racially divisive language.
Bates won election to the Detroit City Council in 2001, but his tenure didn’t last too long. He was indicted for several offenses in 2005 and was convicted in federal court on four of five felony counts a year later. He was found guilty of placing four “phantom” employees on the city payroll: his brother-in-law, the daughter of his girlfriend, the mother of one of his children and a handyman who did work at Bates’ home. Before the trial, he pleaded guilty to not filing federal income tax returns for four years. He ultimately was sentenced to 33 months in prison.
Other school board members didn’t tell the Detroit News if they would support a Lemmons resolution to remove Carson’s name from the school. But it will be interesting to see if they go along with the move without changing the name of Bates Academy.
I won’t be surprised if the board takes off the name of the respected neurosurgeon while leaving the name of the felon alone. It’s the Detroit Way, something I’ve seen far too often in the past 50 years.