The Boston Globe reports that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is having trouble giving away the profits from sales of an English translation of Mein Kampf.
For the past 16 years HMH has been donating its blood money organizations like the Anti-Defamation League, the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, and Facing History and Ourselves – groups that focus on fighting anti-Semitism or Holocaust education.
That changed recently:
Recently, however, the company has quietly decided to change course, shifting its grant-making focus from programs explicitly related to Holocaust awareness and Jewish education to those that promote tolerance more generally. This delicate pivot has become even more complicated locally, as the publishing house has sought to focus the book’s proceeds in Boston, inviting a handful of area institutions to propose projects for funding. At least one — Boston Children’s Museum — has said no, discomfited by the Hitler connection.
So far only the Boston Children’s Museum has said they have declined the funds, but they won’t be the last organization to do so. “It just did not feel in the end like a good fit,” said Carole Charnow, the museum’s president and CEO. “This was not a rational decision.”
other parties like the Museum of Fine Arts have been cool to the idea, and have not pursued it. HMH first invited that museum to propose a project last summer. One year later, the museum has yet to submit a proposal. “We are thinking about the kind of project that might be appropriate, given the funding source,” Karen Frascona, director of public relations for the MFA, said via e-mail. “No decisions have been made yet.”
It’s easy to see why the museums don’t want the money, but it’s more difficult to understand why HMH chooses to continue to profit from evil.
“We feel that giving funds to cultural and educational organizations that reach a broad audience can effectively influence the way our society tackles issues of cultural awareness, bias, and discrimination,” said Andrew Russell, director of corporate social responsibility for HMH.
Perhaps, but that doesn’t change the fact that HMH has been profiting from the sale of this book since 1979, and only started giving the profits away when that fact was exposed in 2000.
The simple fact is, this is blood money, and HMH doesn’t have to continue to sell the book. At least one English translation of Mein Kampf is in the public domain, and can be found on Project Gutenberg, the Kindle Store, and other sites, so HMH could simply choose to step away from the work.
Or even better: HMH could choose to wash their hands of the book’s history and legacy by releasing their translation of Mein Kampf under a CC license, thus giving up all profits while guaranteeing that the public can still access the work.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt could easily walk away from this book, but several universities do not have that same option when it comes to slavery.
Many older venerable US universities either benefited from donations made by slave owners or traders, or even owe their existence to slavery.
Georgetown University is in a similar situation; it owes its survival to an 1838 sale of 272 slaves. Owned by the university, those slaves ended up on plantations in Louisiana.
And then there’s Yale, which not only maintains the name of white supremacist and slave owner John C Calhoun on a residential college (as well as having named many other buildings after slave owners), but also has a 300-year history of benefiting from the largesse of slave owners and traders.
[T]hree Yale scholars say the university is ignoring a less honorable side of its history.
They say Yale relied on slave-trading money for its first scholarships, endowed professorship and library endowment. It honored slave traders when choosing figures to chisel as ”Worthies” on the tower at the center of its campus, and only 40 years ago chose the names of slave traders when it was naming some colleges. According to documents these scholars have unearthed, in 1831 Yale officials led the opposition that ultimately stopped construction in New Haven of what would have been the nation’s first black college, saying that such an institution in the same city would be ”incompatible with the prosperity, if not the existence,” of Yale.
The scholars, all doctoral candidates at Yale, say they hope their work will force Yale to the center of a growing national debate over slavery and whether and how to make amends for it.
It’s 2016, and institutions and corporations are still grappling with the historical legacy of events like slavery and the Holocaust. Several universities are finally coming to terms with the fact that they owe their existence to the horrendous practice of slavery, while one publisher is trying to continue to inform the public about books like Mein Kampf without profiting from it.
While the latter has a simple solution, the former issue isn’t going to be resolved this year, much less this decade.
In fact, Yale was first publicly criticized on this issue fifteen years ago, and they still have many buildings named after slave owners, including buildings erected in the middle of the 20th century.
Something tells me they will still be making peace with their past a century from now.