In my Christian tradition, we set aside special days to honor certain noteworthy people (saints and martyrs) of our faith. A long time ago, the Orthodox Church thought it would be really cool to make small hand-held pictures, or icons, of the saints so Christians could carry them around and honor their memory. It was sort of like the ancient Christian version of baseball cards. Today, there is even a website where you can send icons of the saints on their special days to your friends.
After a couple thousand years of canonizing, there were lots of saints and lots of icons. Now there’s practically a saint (or even multiple saints) for every day of the year. That got to be a bit too tedious for some of us Christians in the West, so we simply expedited the saint-honoring process by lumping everyone together into one day on November 1st. Of course, there’s still a couple of really popular ones such as St. Patrick’s and St. Valentine’s that we couldn’t manage to pack away into the mothballs of All Saints Day.
Honoring saints and martyrs with special days isn’t limited to us religious folk either. Lots of organizations and institutions do it. For example, earlier this year, we celebrated a modern, U.S. martyr with a federal holiday, the “Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.”
Our congress has designated ten such federal holidays (eleven in years with presidential inaugurations). Four of these days honor individuals—in addition to King, we celebrate the birthdays of George Washington, Christopher Columbus, and Jesus of Nazareth. The latter is an unsettling choice for those of us who value the First Amendment. As a Christian, of course, I observe Christmas as a part of the liturgical calendar of the church; but as a U.S. citizen, it makes me cringe that my government has taken a Christian holy day and made it a Federal holiday. Actually, I find both Columbus and Jesus odd picks for U.S. federal holidays—neither were U.S. citizens!
Another way we honor people is by naming things after them: cities, libraries, stadiums, and even streets. In Champaign, we have even adopted the eccentric practice of naming streets twice.
I appreciate some of the Honorary Streets designated by the Champaign City Council. A street named after someone who suffered and died because of senseless violence is apropos. Austin Cloyd who died in the Virginia Tech shootings deserves, at the very least, a street named after her. So do some of the other folks who have been given posthumous honors with street signs. A sign is not much in the grand scheme of things. It certainly doesn’t help us make sense out of a senseless death, and it probably doesn’t provide much comfort to the families of the victim. But it does help us remember the victim and honor their memory.
But I have to wonder what in the world the City Council was thinking when they approved some of our Honorary street signs. Why, for example, is there a street named for Loren Tate? He’s neither a saint or a martyr. He has not suffered or died for anything. If anything, in the opinion of this humble columnist, he has been the source of suffering for many with his racist ramblings regarding Chief Illiniwek, spreading propaganda through his Tatelines column.
No matter though, in the eyes of the Council. The News-Gazette, submitted his name for a sign, and they got it. Big surprise.
So when I’m on my way to meet my buddies for breakfast downtown and I have to drive by that idiotic sign that says “Honorary Loren Tate Way,” I just read it and smile politely. After all, what else can I do?