With John Lewis being recognized as one of the greatest and most important leaders this nation has ever had, it's time to find appropriate ways to remember him, and to keep his memory present for future generations. Renaming the Edmund Pettus Bridge after him has been widely discussed, and should have happened long ago, but that the vile racist Pettus's name wasn't long ago replaced speaks for itself. Alabama. But there's an even more significant public space that should be renamed in Lewis's honor: National Airport, for tens of millions each year the gateway to the nation's capital.
National Airport is currently named after Ronald Reagan. As this nation removes the names of racists such as Woodrow Wilson and Confederate leaders from public spaces and monuments, it's time to do the same with spaces and monuments named after Reagan. In today's news from the Department of Believe Them When They Show You Who They Are, Trump's ambassador to the Netherlands Peter Hoekstra visited a Nazi graveyard in Germany. But this also was just a reminder that Reagan also controversially visited a Nazi cemetery.
Of course, more specific to the causes to which John Lewis dedicated his life, Reagan also launched his first general election campaign in Neshoba County, Mississippi, talking "states' rights":
As the Republican nominee for president in 1980, Reagan staged an Aug. 3 rally at the Neshoba County Fair in Mississippi, an event that was weighted with racist symbolism. Neshoba County was the site of the brutal murders of the black activist James Chaney and white civil rights workers Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman.
Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman were killed during 1964’s Mississippi Freedom Summer, a historic effort by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to bring democracy and racial justice to the Magnolia State. The interracial trio of activists went missing June 21 outside of tiny Philadelphia, Miss. Their bodies were recovered Aug. 4 in an earthen dam, and they have become enshrined as three of the most visible martyrs of the civil rights era.
His meaning was clear.
Reagan knew all of this and still held a raucous rally in Neshoba County, where he declared his allegiance to “states’ rights,” a dog whistle fully understood by the white people in attendance who embraced the conservative former California governor and actor as a political hero straight from central casting.
This wasn't just a political ploy. Reagan was a racist. His political history was infused with racism. His presidency was deliberately structured to encode racism and the New Jim Crow into law. He even was recently discovered to have been taped spewing his racism:
The day after the United Nations voted to recognize the People’s Republic of China, then–California Governor Ronald Reagan phoned President Richard Nixon at the White House and vented his frustration at the delegates who had sided against the United States. “Last night, I tell you, to watch that thing on television as I did,” Reagan said. “Yeah,” Nixon interjected. Reagan forged ahead with his complaint: “To see those, those monkeys from those African countries—damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes!” Nixon gave a huge laugh.
Reagan was a vicious, malicious, aggressive racist. And in this era when his heir Donald Trump is exacerbating an unprecedented global and national health crisis, it's also important to remember that Reagan did the same. But he did it deliberately. Because the people suffering most from that health crisis were gay
Reagan remained silent about HIV/AIDS from the very first confirmed cases in 1981 until the end of his second term, not speaking out about the disease until May 31, 1987. By the time Reagan addressed the epidemic at the Third International Conference on AIDS in Washington, 36,058 Americans had been diagnosed with AIDS and 20,849 had died. The disease had spread to 113 countries, with more than 50,000 cases in 1987. As Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) wrote in the Washington Post in 1985, “It is surprising that the president could remain silent.” “Perhaps his staff felt he had to, since many of his New Right supporters have raised money by campaigning against homosexuals.”
Indeed, Reagan — who during his 1980 campaign said that society cannot “condone” the “alternative” gay “lifestyle” — could have chosen to end the homophobic rhetoric that flowed from his administration and most ardent supporters. The Moral Majority’s Rev. Jerry Falwell claimed that “AIDS is the wrath of God upon homosexuals,” and Reagan’s communications director Pat Buchanan said AIDS is “nature’s revenge on gay men.” “The poor homosexuals — they have declared war upon nature, and now nature is exacting an awful retribution,” Buchanan wrote in a 1983 op-ed for the New York Post, concluding that homosexuals should not be permitted to handle food and that the Democratic party’s decision to hold their next convention in San Francisco would leave delegates’ spouses and children at the mercy of “homosexuals who belong to a community that is a common carrier of dangerous, communicable and sometimes fatal diseases.”
Dr. C. Everett Koop, Reagan’s surgeon general, later explained that “intradepartmental politics” kept Reagan out of all AIDS discussions for the first five years of the administration “because transmission of AIDS was understood to be primarily in the homosexual population and in those who abused intravenous drugs.” The president’s advisers, Koop said, “took the stand, ‘They are only getting what they justly deserve.’”
That Reagan's name adorns what is called National Airport is a disgrace. It's time his name was removed, and replaced with a name that does this nation honor: John R. Lewis National Airport.