I have been writing and speaking about the movement to remove statues that range from confederate leaders to Columbus to Supreme Court justices to Founders (here and here and here and here). CNN political commentator and former Congressional Black Caucus director Angela Rye (right) is the latest to expand the call for the removal of monuments. Rye stated on CNN that the country must tear down all memorials and likenesses of George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson. I recently wrote about the call for the removal of monuments to George Washington.
Rye declared on CNN that “George Washington was a slaveowner. Whether we think they were protecting American freedom or not, he wasn’t protecting my freedom.”
As discussed in my prior column, George Washington came to oppose slavery and was the only slave owning president and the only slave owning Founder who freed his slaves. That does not excuse his holding of slaves during his life but it does make him a more complex historical figure on the question. Washington and Jefferson helped lay the foundations for a great country that would continue to struggle with the scourge of slavery and racism. What they gave us was a system that proved better than the times and the people that created it.
As I have been discussing on air, there is an alternative to wiping out historical monuments. Just as will be done with the Jefferson Memorial, we can place these monuments into context by adding information and even additional statuary.
Rye insists that all of these statues must come down because “We have to get to the heart of the problem here and the heart is the way many of us were taught American history. American history is not all glorious.” Indeed, it is not all glorious but it was a glorious experiment with a people committed to self-determination and individual liberties. The hypocrisy of stating such ideals in a nation with slavery was not lost on some of that generation like Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and John Jay. However, the system that they created allowed for a nation to finally end this disgraceful practice. Indeed, hundreds of thousands of white and black soldiers would die together ridding the nation of this scourge. While aspects of our history are not glorious, we have had glorious and redemptive moments of a people struggling with our own failures. We can learn from that history, but not if we tear it down in a blind rage against our past.
What do you think?