After the shootings in Charleston, S.C., state and local officials around the country were right to purge the Confederate battle flag from government buildings. But efforts to erase all discomfiting traces of America’s checkered past are futile and wrong.
The University of Texas at Austin has relocated statues of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and President Woodrow Wilson for their associations with slavery and racism.
University officials removed the Davis statue in late August, saying “it was no longer in the university’s best interest to continue commemorating him.” The Wilson statue was also moved to a campus museum for more obtuse reasons. Officially, it was for “symmetry,” but the 28th president supported segregation and showed the racist film “The Birth of a Nation” in the White House.
Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, both slaveholders, are in posthumous trouble, too. In many cities, Democrats are renaming their traditional Jefferson-Jackson fundraising dinners.
If Jefferson falls, George Washington could, too, and the poignant statue of the general and Indian chief Guyasuta, crouched high upon Mount Washington, would be endangered – as well as the Washington Monument and countless cities bearing his name.
While he made provisions for their freedom in his will, the nation’s first president owned slaves from age 11 until his death. The website of his Virginia estate, Mount Vernon, acknowledges the troubling history matter-of-factly, without defense or condemnation.
This is a good model for the nation to follow when it comes to its flawed presidents and other historic figures. Honor the office; the facts will speak for themselves.