What the naming of my middle school a political statement?

I went to Eli Whitney Middle School (then Eli Whitney Junior High School) in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Given that Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin helped perpetuate slavery in the south, and the school was built during the middle of the civil rights movement, how likely was it that the naming was intended to be a political statement?

How was Whitney perceived 50 years ago? A clever inventor like Edison? Or a symbol of the “good old days” of the antebellum south?

I don’t think naming a place after Eli Whitney would even be seen as a political statement now, let alone 50 years ago.

Whitney was also famous for the invention of interchangeable parts,* something that allowed for the mass manufacture of the guns that allowed the North to beat the South as well as being the basis for the American factory system.

But the cotton gin didn’t create slavery and it’s doubtful it perpetuated it (other crops would have been raised by slaves).

If it’s a political statement, it’s a pretty mixed one.

*Though there’s evidence that he faked the demonstration.

I grew up in the North during the early years of the civil rights movement, and Whitney was taught (actually just listed, alongside Morse, Bell, and a few others) as an inventor whose invention “improved” economic conditions (Presumably for the plantation owners and merchants). There was no suggestion that he in any way contributed to the growth of slavery.

I stopped reading about here:

Technology generally reduces the need or desire for cheap labor. Though of course sometimes it can produce a Jevon’s Paradox effect instead. Either way, an inventor is just an inventor. Unless there’s some reason to think that he invented a device with a particular devious purpose or was willfully negligent in predicting its use, there’s no reason to blame him for what may come.

Even if his invention did help perpetuate slavery (a premise I was also taught in school), that certainly wasn’t his intention. IIRC, he made statements at the time that he thought it would decrease slavery.

And naming a school after him isn’t exclusively a Southern thing, either. I too went to a middle school named (partly) after him, in Cleveland, OH, a city proud of its anti-slavery history.

Based on my Connecticut public school education, the state was very proud of Eli Whitney and his accomplishments, despite whatever role the cotton gin might have had in “perpetuating slavery.” BTW, I looked at the Tulsa school district website to to see if I could figure out the connection to Whitney, but didn’t find any. (I was amused to find that Tulsa also has a high school named for Nathan Hale, another famous person from Connecticut.)

If you want political statements, one of the elementary schools I attended was named after Jefferson Davis. It’s now named after Barbara Jordan.

As I understand it, separating the seed from cotton was a very time consuming chore before the invention of the cotton gin. No matter how large the demand, planters were limited not by the amount they could grow, but by the amount they could process. The gin removed this bottleneck to such a degree that planters bought more & more land to grow more & more cotton. This resulted in bigger plantations & more slaves. People tend to forget that slavery died off in the north because it was less economically feasible to own slaves on small farms. The cotton gin made slavery pay off in a big way in the southern states.

Tulsa’s most amusing school renaming was when John Marshall Elementary was renamed John & Thurgood Marshall Elementary—as if they were long-lost brothers.

Just to ask the obvious question - there’s no connection between Whitney and Oklahoma (territory), is there? Or between the place and any of his descendants? That might be a simpler explanation than interpreting the name in a political context.

There are also a couple of schools named after Whitney in Connecticut, where he was from, and another in Chicago.

I had a gf that went to Jefferson Davis Elementary School in the late 70s in Oklahoma City. I think it’s still extant, but can’t say for sure.

Point?? Yes, I’m quite sure you’d like one, wouldn’t you?
Best wishes,

Not really. As noted:

Why? It is a valid position held by numerous scholars.
On the other hand, the presentation that the gin “saved” slavery was not well developed in the 1960s (and I doubt that anyone who was pro Jim Crow would have embraced the idea, preferring to believe that slavery was simply the “natural” order of things that was brought to an untimely end through northern aggression.