The Name Remains: Making Reparations for Our History

It is May, 1637. Captain John Mason, an English immigrant to the New World, leads a raid on a Pequot village named Mystic. In this attack, around five hundred Pequots are killed. Among this number were women, children, and elderly. Captain Mason accomplished this by ordering large portions of the village in question to be lit on fire. Anyone trying to escape over the walls was shot, while the families inside the village were burned alive. A highly successful raid.

This spring, nearly three hundred and eighty years later, a dorm building at Loomis Chaffee bears John Mason’s name, and has done so since its construction in 1913. Mason Hall and Taylor Hall, the two oldest dorm buildings on campus, have undergone several renovations since their original creation—but their names have remained unchanged.

Why would Loomis Chaffee, a school that promotes and upholds the pursuit of the common good, allow a dorm to be named after the murderer of innocent women and children? In the administration’s defense, several explanations exist, one of them being that Mason’s actions in the Pequot War are not common historical knowledge among the average student. Essentially every person on campus knows who the first president of the United States was, or that World War Two happened, or when Columbus came to (I refuse to say ‘discovered’) America. But the Mystic massacre, as the attack came to be known, seems as though it may be a less ubiquitous piece of trivia. Yet ironically enough, today every freshman in history class learns about John Mason’s atrocities. If anything, the fact that we, as a school and as a community, ignore the history we expect our students to learn, is nothing short of chilling in its Daisy Buchanan-esque carelessness.

As I mentioned, the Loomis community is not oblivious to Mason’s crimes. All freshmen (and the occasional new sophomore) study John Mason’s actions within the greater scope of the Pequot War. Students are asked to discuss the morality of displaying a statue of Mason on a green in Windsor, especially when it was moved from its original location on the site of a Pequot fort, a relocation judged to be insensitive. And yet, the name remains.

Some people argue that it’s too late to make reparations, or that it is not worth the effort and controversy to change the name of a prep school dormitory. What will change, after all? Is it not enough to simply intellectually understand the wrongdoings of our forbears? Not at all.
Take a recent web campaign: Women on 20s. It strived to rectify previous governmental oversights by doing exactly what their name suggests: replacing Andrew Jackson, the current historical figure featured on the twenty dollar bill, with a historically important American woman. Fifteen women were chosen from among thirty initial candidates, and participants were asked to vote for their top three. Currently, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Wilma Mankiller are on the ballot for the final round of voting. The campaign (according to their home website at womenon20s.org) feels that this “long-overdue change could be an important stepping stone for other initiatives promoting gender equality.”

By neglecting such a basic yet important gesture, the U.S. has not represented half of their population. It may be as mundane as simple oversight or as sinister as an engineered conspiracy (the latter is less likely), but if it’s trivial, it should be easy to change. After all, the five-dollar bill was redesigned in 2007, and American currency undergoes tweaks constantly. Why should putting a woman on the front be an inconvenience?

The same logic applies to Mason. A name change would be both easy to accomplish and vitally important in keeping Loomis from falling into the greased bear trap that is hypocrisy. Though undoubtedly small, this change could bring about important ideological change in both the school’s reputation and, more importantly, the way we choose to act in light of our history. When you live in a world dominated by the names of white settlers who unfairly invaded your land and conveniently massacred your people, I imagine it would be highly refreshing to see one of them removed.

But more broadly, changing Mason’s name would be a step toward making up for his crimes. It certainly wouldn’t be a complete apology, but it would be a start—and the informed minds of the thousands of students that have attended Loomis Chaffee will contribute to the reparations of his crimes.