Scrubbing George Washington from History: Who’s Next?


Just a few days ago comes news that a San Francisco school district is mulling getting rid of a series of murals honoring our first president because a commissioned working group alleges it’s traumatizing students.

Imagine my surprise that founding father George Washington is now under attack by politically enlightened, self-lacerating guardians of the public interest, bent on scrubbing the pantheon of American heroes clean in writing a revisionist history:

We come to these recommendations due to the continued historical and current trauma of Native Americans and African Americans with these depictions in the mural that glorifies slavery, genocide, colonization, manifest destiny, white supremacy, oppression, etc.

Seems our anointed censors will neither forgive nor forget that George was a slave owner and killed Native Americans in the French and Indian War. And, of course, we have to take into account its psychological fallout for students exposed daily to the murals.

Ironically, these murals were painstakingly done in 1936 by communist Victor Arnautoff, who simply wanted in his own words “to provoke a nuanced view of Washington’s legacy,” which the San Francisco United School District (SFUSD) has obviously misconstrued in its literalist approach.

Wonder what Dolly Madison would say about all of this.

But it doesn’t stop here. There’s Christ Church that Washington and his family attended in Alexandria, Virginia. Washington had purchased a family pew, marked by a plaque. Well, no more!

The plaques in our sanctuary make some in our presence feel unsafe or unwelcome. Some visitors and guests who worship with us choose not to return because they receive an unintended message from the prominent presence of the plaques.

Washington was a founding and contributing member of the congregation. Ironically, the church is located on North Washington Street. Y’uh thinking maybe they should move?

Last, but not least, comes this news from academia: Washington and Lee University board of trustees has decided on replacing portraits of Washington and Lee in military uniform with portraits of them in civilian garb.

In a formal statement, J. Donald Childress, rector of the board of trustees, and William C. Dudley, university president, said, “We appreciate the seriousness and thoughtfulness with which our fellow trustees have approached these matters. On behalf of the board, we want to express our gratitude to all of those members of the community who contributed to our deliberations, through countless letters and conversations over the summer and on campus this weekend. We are fortunate to be part of a community that cares deeply about this institution and is so dedicated to its continued success.”

Seems the leader of the Continental Army has been relieved of command.

I prefer distinguished American historian Fergus M. Bordewich’s take on these things in exclaiming it’s “a deeply wrongheaded habit to project today’s norms, values, ideals backwards in time to find our ancestors inevitably falling short. It betrays a very troubling intolerance of art and the ambiguity of art and the aspirations of art. It’s incredibly stupid if we try to erase history. It still happened, and you should argue about its meanings.”

–rj

About RJ

Retired English prof (Ph. D., UNC), who likes to garden, blog, pursue languages (especially Spanish) and to share in serious discussion on vital issues such as global warming, the role of government, energy alternatives, etc. Am a vegan and, yes, a tree hugger enthusiastically. If you write me, I'll answer.
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