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Smearing George Washington By: Erick Stakelbeck
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, January 17, 2003

To rephrase Robert Duvall’s infamous line from Apocalypse Now, I hate the smell of liberal propaganda in the morning. If it fans the ever-fertile flames of racial discontent, I detest it even more. So imagine my reaction upon seeing the following headline plastered across the January 5th edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s weekly magazine:

"Embracing the Past, Shackles And All: How Philadelphia Covers Up Its Slave History." Right above this provocative caption was an antiquated rendering of a Colonial-era slave auction, with five blacks on a platform being bid upon by a leering group of whites. My initial thoughts were that this was a decidedly heavy topic for a weekly newspaper supplement dealing primarily in restaurant ratings, television listings and tongue-in-cheek cultural commentary. This impression was quickly replaced, however, by a gnawing certainty that—this being a publication of the left-of-center Philadelphia Inquirer—the enclosed nine-page spread was meant to be little more than one long guilt trip for whites. But after reading Lorene Cary and Kenneth Finkel’s articles, it was apparent that I had sorely misjudged the Inquirer’s intentions. The magazine’s extensive focus on slavery wasn’t conceived as just another shameless exercise in media race baiting. Rather, it was part of a much larger effort, one that seeks to destroy the legacy of perhaps the greatest American who ever lived—George Washington.

As Cary and Finkel explained in their articles, the National Park Service plans to move the Liberty Bell from its present location at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall to a spot nearby where Washington’s Presidential House once stood. Washington lived in the long-since demolished building, located on Market St. between 5th and 6th in Center City, during both terms of his presidency (1790-98), while John Adams resided there for the bulk of his one term (1798-1802) as well. No one will argue that the site is a historical landmark worthy of greater homage than the mere commemorative plaque that hangs there now. And the fact that a public restroom stands directly above the remains of the original White House is downright criminal. But Cary, Finkel and Gary B. Nash (the UCLA history professor/revisionist profiled by Finkel in his article) are outraged for a different reason. Apparently, the spot designated to hold the new Liberty Bell Center (a few short yards from the public john) rests atop what was once the living quarters of Washington’s eight black slaves.

To most people, placing one of America’s most enduring icons of freedom and democracy, the Liberty Bell, above the site of a former slave house would be seen as an emphatic statement against the evils of human bondage. But the symbolism is lost on Cary, Finkel, Nash and their Leftist brethren, who are demanding that interpretive panels detailing the racism that existed at the site be hung throughout the Liberty Bell Center. This has led to the formation of the Avenging the Ancestors Coalition (A.A.C.), an organization of academics, historians and local politicians committed to reminding the millions who will visit the Liberty Bell Center that our first President, like many prominent men of his era, did indeed own slaves. As Nash states in Finkel’s article,

"There’s such a thing as managing memory—manipulating memory—and there’s also such a thing as murdering memory. And I wouldn’t want to see memory murdered."

Ironically, that’s just what Nash and his A.A.C. cohorts are doing by attempting to drag the accomplishments of George Washington—renowned gentleman, General, statesman and Founding Father—into America’s memory hole. Sad to say, this systematic sullying of reputation is nothing new. For years now, heroic figures like Christopher Columbus, Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson have been attacked by cultural Marxists bent on establishing a progressive, politically correct version of history. Nash and his ilk would never admit it, but remembering the slaves is far less important to them than making known Washington’s slave owning. This movement gained momentum recently when Congress, caving to pressure from the A.A.C., placed language into the 2003 House Appropriations Bill urging the National Park Service to "appropriately commemorate" Washington’s slaves. In addition, the Independence Hall Association of Philadelphia has added an entire link about the controversy (www.history.org/presidentshouse/slaves) to its website. Featured attractions include detailed biographies of all eight slaves as well as several articles demanding a memorial be placed at the Liberty Bell Center site. Judging from their biographies, the slaves all seemed like good, God-fearing men and women who made the best of a deplorable situation. But if a memorial is erected in their honor, should not the A.A.C. advocate similar monuments at every former slave residence? There are plenty of sites throughout the United States that bear the stain of slavery. What makes Washington’s Presidential House stand apart? The obvious answer is that the Father of Our Country provides an ideal target for Leftists to advance their racially divisive, America-hating agenda. The depth of this animosity was vividly displayed in the Inquirer magazine’s aforementioned nine-page spread.

The most inflammatory aspect of Lorene Cary and Kenneth Finkel’s articles may have been the photos that accompanied them: an 18th century Philadelphia newspaper advertisement announcing "Slaves For Sale" and another listing Benjamin Franklin as a contact should a runaway slave be found; a copy of Franklin’s 1772 tax list declaring "One Negro"; and an authentic, rib-and-neck slave shackle. A caption above Franklin’s tax list read: "Philadelphia: Home to Revolution, the Liberty Bell, and Slavery." Judging by these sensationalistic images, you’d think that Colonial-era Philadelphia was a hotbed of racial oppression. Quite the contrary, the city boasted the nation’s largest population of free blacks. Pennsylvania, meanwhile, was the first state to abolish slavery, doing so in 1780. This information contrasted sharply with Cary’s article, which was little more than a bitter rant blasting Philadelphia for its slave history and decrying her lack of formal education about the subject.

"I do not remember any mention of slavery in school until second grade," lamented Cary, who teaches writing at the University of Pennsylvania. "Slavery was not a standard curriculum item like Pilgrims and Indians in whose honor we made hats."

It seems that for Cary, nursery school is the proper time to begin a child’s slavery education. After all, what better time to sow the seeds of racial discord? Get them while they’re young, I say. She goes on to tell a story about one of her college professors, who "challenged us students to find better histories for ourselves than the ones we’d inherited. [Thomas] Jefferson knew, he said, that if black people remembered America’s injuries, they would never live in peace with their white neighbors."

Cary didn’t elaborate on the latter statement, leading me to believe that there aren’t many Caucasians on her Christmas card list.

Finkel’s article, on the other hand, was perfectly forthcoming in its praise of Gary B. Nash and condemnation of the "lumbering bureaucracy" that is the Independence National Historical Park. To Finkel, anyone who doesn’t challenge the "ivory tower that offers the history of wealthy, powerful, white Protestant males, written by wealthy, powerful, white Protestant males" is a bigoted dinosaur. Never mind that the same Protestant white males he disparages created the world’s first Abolitionist movement and fought a bloody Civil War to free black slaves. Finkel refuses to accept that someone in this "enlightened" day and age would actually oppose a memorial to Washington’s slaves. As for the object of Finkel’s literary affections, Nash, a rundown of his affiliations presents the "grizzled professor’s" story in a nutshell.

—Nash is a member of the ultra-liberal Organization of American Historians (OAH).

—Nash, along with fellow UCLA educator Charlotte Crabtree, created the National Center for History in the Schools (NCHS), whose notorious 1994 publication National Standards for World History: Exploring Paths to the Present was dubbed by Newt Gingrich "a bible of radical revisionism" and "a calculated effort to discredit the [American] civilization." Added Lynne Cheney,

"[The NCHS’] historical standards diminished the role of Western civilization in human history by focusing instead on lessons such as ‘The Gender Relations Under India’s Gupta Empire’ and ‘The Political and Cultural Achievements Under Shah Abbas in Persia.’

The late Al Shanker, formerly president of the American Federation of Teachers, wrote in a November 11, 1994 Wall Street Journal op-ed that the standards—co-authored by Nash—were, "a travesty, a sort of cheap shot, Leftist point of view of history. Everything that is European or American, or has to do with white people, is evil or oppressive, while Genghis Khan is a nice, sweet guy just bringing his culture to other places."

—Finkel’s article glowingly states that during his undergraduate days at Princeton, Nash "worked as a carpenter for a Unitarian civil-rights group building living quarters for migrant farm workers." According to the group’s website (www.uua.org), Unitarians practice a "liberal religion" that believes "in the end, religious authority lies not in a book or person or institution, but in ourselves." Unitarians come from a variety of religious backgrounds and welcome gays, bisexuals and transgenders to their flock, so long as they are willing to "worship, sing, play, study, teach and work for social justice."

Nash’s checkered background must be examined in order for us to fully understand the Avenging the Ancestors Coalition. The harsh truth is that the organization’s attempts to reopen old racial wounds and retell the past are little more than dated cultural Marxist ploys. The ascension of Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice to the highest echelons of government is proof positive that slavery in the United States is akin to ancient history. If the A.A.C is so concerned about the plight of slaves, why aren’t they up in arms over the present situation in the Sudan, where black slavery is still practiced today? There is a potential genocide underway in Zimbabwe, and reports surfaced recently of cannibalism in the Congo. Considering this, what good does it do to dwell constantly on American slavery, especially since blacks have accomplished so much in the century and a half since the demise of that despicable practice? Despite the insinuations of the A.A.C. and the Philadelphia Inquirer, it is neither racist nor insensitive to oppose a Liberty Bell Center monument to Washington’s slaves. It is simply a stance taken by those who wish George Washington be remembered not as a slaveowner, but as he was eulogized at his funeral in 1799:

"First in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen."

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