Enough with these blasted slave owners.
Enough with these blasted slave owners. RiverNorthPhotography/gettyimages.com

On June 14, protesters in Portland, Oregon made the leap that had to be made sooner or later by toppling a statue of Thomas Jefferson. Yes, bring down the statues of Confederate icons; yes, ban Confederate flags; and yes, enough with the Army bases named after Confederate generals. But is that really enough? What about all of the slave owners who are worshiped as the founders of our nation and the composers of our Constitution? Should we not include them? The answer is a hardcore yes. The nation should come together and, as a national holiday, dynamite them out of American history in the way one would dynamite a couple of those granite faces off Mount Rushmore.

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Why do we praise a slave owner on our leading university campus? Some might say: It was Washington's time and social world. How could we blame him and others for doing something that was at the time socially normal? To this I offer one word: Bosh.

These founding men and women were very aware of what they were doing. Slavery, in its capitalist form, which begins in the 1700s, was not about exploiting labor for domestic purposes (the Jeffersonian image as a Greek pólis—slaves to clean house, slaves for chores, slaves to love). It was a strict financial investment, in the way owning the shares of a corporation is a financial investment. If you wanted to be rich in the New World, you did not get moralistic about slavery. You got all up in it.

If you do not believe me, let me show you this: When American historians talk about the Age of Enlightenment, they are often quick to point out its major influence on the Constitution. This example is typical:

The Enlightenment is all over the US constitution. Ideas in the constitution came from several different Enlightenment thinkers. John Locke's ideas are once again found in an American document. His ideas of the people getting to choose their leaders or the power lies with the people is ever present in the US... Other enlightenment thinkers have influence on the US constitution. Volitaire's ideas are used. Volitaire believed in religious freedom which is practiced in the US today.

Yes, that Voltaire. The one whose name cannot be separated from the Age of Enlightenment. He was known all over the literate Old and the New World. He also wrote the satirical novel Candide in 1790. Near the middle of this work, the adventurers Cacambo and Candide, who are searching for "more riches than were to be found in Europe, Asia, and Africa together" in the northern coast of South America, come across, on a road, a mutilated black man and, shocked, ask that he explain why he is in such a wretched state.

The black man says:

'..Monsieur... it is the custom. Twice a year we are given a pair of blue canvas drawers, and this is our only clothing. When we work in the sugar-mills and get a finger caught in the machinery, they cut off the hand; but if we try to run away, they cut off a leg: I have found myself in both situations. It is the price we pay for the sugar you eat in Europe.'

The founding fathers knew exactly what their plantations were about, but they decided making money was more important than being a human. And they lived with and were rewarded for this understanding. And now is the time to dishonor them for dehumanizing humans with their brazen, profit-determined inhumanity.

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So, what do we do about our state's name?

Keep it, but change its referent. Not George Washington the slave owner, but George Washington Carver, the agriculturalist. That simple. Let the man who brought honor to the name George Washington be honored with the name of our state.

A last word. Ghosts never come from the past. They always come from the future. We today are the ghosts visiting the slave owners of old. When they decided profits were more important than life, this decision was not made in isolation. It was haunted by us, the ghosts from the future. And as time grows, so do the number of ghosts. We're there in your now, George Washington. We're there in your now, Thomas Jefferson.

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