Blow All the Slaveowning Men Down?

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.

John Brown. Does he need a memorial on the National Mall?

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.

4 thoughts on “Blow All the Slaveowning Men Down?”

  1. It may be that the era of public monuments to individual people has come and gone, and I wouldn’t be sorry to see it go. In the meantime, there seems to me to be a difference between memorializing flawed people who nevertheless made a contribution and memorializing people whose claim to fame was pursuing a traitorous war to support their ability to keep their property–by which they meant people–and doing so in a time when that “right” was already widely questioned.

  2. Or maybe it is time to stop idolizing the past more than it deserves.

    The short time that I was a history major taught me much about how the stories and heroes of the past are transmitted.

    In my Early US History class, I chose to write a report on George Washington (GW). I discovered that he was not only the richest man in the 13 Colonies, he also owned many slaves who worked his land in VA while he traveled/worked as a surveyor.

    Here is Wikipedia’s entry:

    “Washington owned slaves, and, in order to preserve national unity, he supported measures passed by Congress to protect slavery. He later became troubled with the institution of slavery and freed his slaves in a 1799 will. He endeavored to assimilate Native Americans into Anglo-American culture but combated indigenous resistance during occasions of violent conflict. He was a member of the Anglican Church and the Freemasons, and he urged broad religious freedom in his roles as general and president. Upon his death, he was eulogized as “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen”. He has been memorialized by monuments, art, geographical locations, stamps, and currency, and many scholars and polls rank him among the greatest U.S. presidents.”

    Here is the collective “story” about Washington & Slavery.

    There was an entry about Quakers, too, much to my surprise:
    “Washington never spoke publicly on the issue of slavery during his eight years as president, nor did he respond to, much less act upon, any of the antislavery petitions he received. He described a 1790 Quaker petition to Congress urging an immediate end to the slave trade as “an illjudged piece of business” that “occasioned a great waste of time”, although historian Paul F. Boller has observed that Congress extensively debated that petition only to conclude it had no power to do anything about it, so “The Quaker Memorial may have been a waste of time so far as immediate practical results were concerned.”

    Here is the source of the above quote:

    To me it is clear that he might, in private, have “felt badly” about owning slaves, his actions speak louder than his words. He only freed 1 slave in his will and left the rest to his wife. They were to be freed upon her death but she left them to her children.

    So, what does this have to do with the Washington monument? I believe that our country was founded for the benefit of the 1%. They were paying too much to the British Crown. They got non of the benefits, like titles or invitations to parties and opening nights of plays and concerts.

    I got a D from my professor for “outing” his HERO! (I was unaware GW was his hero,) A great lesson that saved me from a lifetime of chasing ghosts who could also “shapeshift” to be whatever the “chaser” wanted them to be. (Star Trek had this idea in each of its TV Series.

    Why do you think that the Broadway play Hamilton is so successful? (I have not seen the show as it is way to rich for my blood. (Simplicity Testimony) although the new Disney Streaming service is showing it this week. Hmm)

    Did Americans disrespect Hamilton by having a Black man play him? Or did it elevate him? How accurate was the story that the play told?


    1. It is my understanding (I could be wrong) that Hamilton was actually of “mixed blood” so a black man is possibly more accurate than a white.

  3. I’ve just downloaded the entire speech made by Douglass at the dedication of the Freedman’s Monument. It’s quite magnificent, and as such its words themselves are a comprehensively better memorial than the crudely racist tableau presented in the Monument itself. The balance and nuance of the speech raises it to the fairest and best appraisal of Lincoln I’ve ever seen. Its clear Douglass meant every word, including the extensive, specific praise he showered on Lincoln after clearing the way by setting out his worst traits beforehand. So I really have a problem with crudely lumping slaveholders and Lincoln together and blandly stating they weren’t all horrible people. I see your point, but believe you could have made it better.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.