I give a lot of weight to voices like that of Charles Blow. So I am taking seriously what he wrote in today’s NYTimes:
“I say that we need to reconsider public monuments in public spaces. No person’s honorifics can erase the horror he or she has inflicted on others.
Slave owners should not be honored with monuments in public spaces. We have museums for that, which also provide better context. This is not an erasure of history, but rather a better appreciation of the horrible truth of it.”
— And yet, and yet, I find myself thinking. What about —??
Take Washington. Okay, no excuse for slaveowning.
Yet in the courts, there are such things as mitigating circumstances. They don’t overturn a conviction, but can affect the sentence.
And in Washington’s case, there’s that small matter of winning our independence, so the U.S. could work through its own blood-dimmed way to end slavery.
And then there was that other matter of him refusing to be made a king. Especially these past four years, Every day of them, many of us can see how NOT small that one was.
Even Jefferson (cf. the Bill of Rights? ) Yeah, Sally Hemings.
Still. I mean, every dam day that piece of Jefferson’s legacy mitigates our circumstances. At least what’s left of it does.
Including Charles Blow’s circumstances. Without Jefferson’s First Amendment, Bill Barr would have had Blow locked up by now, crowded in with the rest of the out-of-Business Times staff, in their own nasty Gitmo annex.
Maybe put a statue of Sally and their kids in his rotunda, Let them watch the riverside bounty of cherry blossoms and daffodils for several decades.
Not to mention Lincoln, The Great Procrastinator about Emancipation?
What to do?
How about, for a couple generations, switch out his figure in the Big memorial for one of Harriet Tubman, or Frederick Douglass, who called out Lincoln’s segregationist & Shilly -shallying so forthrightly at the unveiling of the Freedman’s Monument. Fine with me.
And maybe a special quarantine for Washington.
His obelisk on the National Mall sat unfinished for several years. What if we took down half of it and used the blocks to build one next to it for John Brown?
Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln. It’s not that their lives were all bad. But Their stature in our history is not by any means all fraudulent.
surely, though, their idolization and whitewashing definitely needs reconfiguring and rethinking. As in, outside the box.
Then let our grandchildren sort them out.
Or maybe great grandchildren.