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Don’t Cancel Flannery O’Connor

Last week, Loyola University Maryland announced that it is renaming the Flannery O’Connor Residence Hall on campus. In an email to the Loyola community, President Brian F. Linnane, S.J., stated that he made this decision based on “information coming forward recently” which “revealed that some of [O’Connor’s] personal writings reflected a racist perspective.” “The building names we use at Loyola,” he wrote, “Should declare to our students—and entire community—what sort of values we esteem and hope to instill in our graduates.” 

The announcement is the school’s official response to a two-sentence, grammatically infelicitous petition from a white student:

Recent letters and postcards written by Flannery O’Connor express strong racist sentiments and hate speech. Her name and legacy should not be honored nor glorified on our Evergreen Campus. 

Comments from signees complain that O’Connor is “disgusting” and that students cannot live “under the name of bigotry.” One wonders, though, how many of these signees know anything about the celebrated Catholic author they have so eagerly condemned. Many admit that they have no clue who this mysterious O’Connor was or why anything was named after her in the first place. Apparently, none are aware that the “recent postcards” were written in 1943, when O’Connor was just a teenager traveling outside the segregated South for the first time. As for the so-called “recent letters,” it is doubtful many realize that O’Connor has been dead for fifty-six years and that her letters were published forty years ago. 

The “recent” revelations Linnane mentions have a single source: an essay by Paul Elie, published in The New Yorker two weeks after American cities erupted in protests and violence over the killing of George Floyd. The essay—pointedly titled “How Racist Was Flannery O’Connor?”—takes O’Connor’s admirers to task for either excusing or ignoring the racist remarks and attitudes that appear in her personal correspondence. 

Read more at First Things

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