D.G. Martin is not the first, nor will he be the last, to misconstrue the word “race” in the quote from Cecil Rhodes (CHN, bit.ly/1PbzQU4).
When he was drafting the criteria for the scholarships Rhodes provided that no one was to be excluded on account of race. In latter days, that has been encouraging to those of us who are happy that the scholarships have never excluded black people, though they have been relatively few until recently. The philosopher Alain Locke was among the early scholars, though it was a long time before another black election.
But in fact “race” as it was used idiomatically in Rhodes’ era referred to what we would call nationality, as in “the British race” or “the French race.” To be sure, there was no explicit legal doctrine of white supremacy under British law, even then, although it was implicit in many minds — especially in southern Africa. And of course the American South, and some of the resident southern Rhodes Scholars made a disgraceful fuss about Locke’s election.
The current campaign against history in Oxford, Chapel Hill, Princeton and elsewhere is ironic, inasmuch as Rhodes’ philanthropies were more important in their time and after than any other factor in breaking down narrow bigotries. Maybe he did not consciously intend them to be; I don't think he was preoccupied with “race” in the sense in which we use it. Like many old-fashioned southern paternalists he probably thought of blacks as inferior, mainly because of their cultural conditioning. But even that is uncertain; he is a complex and mysterious figure.
By the way, I hope my old friend and collaborator Lloyd Kramer hasn’t gone over to the anti-history forces. He misquotes Jefferson, who as I recall said “the earth” (not the world) “belongs to the living,” one of Mr. Jefferson's many glib and oracular utterances that will bear little analytical weight. I doubt that he would want his famous grave marker or the UVA rotunda or serpentine walls to be destroyed or spray-painted with “Black Lives Matter” because he owned hundreds of slaves. And he would not have wished his abundant properties confiscated by and for the needy.
The writer was an editor of The Daily Tar Heel at UNC, a Rhodes Scholar, and an editor at the Greensboro Daily News and The Washington Star, where his editorials won him a Pulitzer Prize.