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“Three hundred and seventeen. That is how many slaves George Washington owned. Most people won’t know this, not because it isn’t a fact, because it is, but because America refuses to acknowledge this part of history.”

Story by Mairen Brown, North Springs High School

Art by Phoenix Rivera, North Springs High School

Hey, America: Have Some Respect for the People Who Built You [Opinion]

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In 1949, Germany legally banned all use of the Nazi symbols. Everywhere. These symbols were banned to respect and acknowledge the pain and suffering Jews were subjected to during the Holocaust, the infamous genocide of European Jews in Nazi, Germany, led by Adolf Hitler. Today in 2022, taking a trip to Germany, on every corner is a recognition of the traumatic event, but for some reason, America is not the same. 

America is also the home of a mass murder/genocide. Slavery. Right here in America, this genocide is documented to have lasted at least 246 years. But for some reason, symbols of slavery are still more common to see in the U.S. than the sun rising in the morning. Things like the Confederate flag, federal holidays, names of schools and hospitals, and everyday things taught in school, are constant reminders of slavery. And most importantly, they remain symbols for the people who experience the everyday generational trauma of these events. The thing is, these symbols are so common, that they are overlooked and invisible to the average American.

It is time to take the covers off America’s eyes. 

Let’s Talk About George Washington

Three hundred and seventeen. That is how many slaves George Washington owned. Most people won’t know this, not because it isn’t a fact, because it is, but because America refuses to acknowledge this part of history. He owned hundreds of slaves. George Washington — the one whose face is carved into Mt. Rushmore and the person whose birthday is celebrated as a Federal Holiday, also known as President’s Day, as well as having hundreds of schools named after him — is a symbol of American slavery. 

To celebrate a man who owned human beings as property is incomprehensible. The way the life of George Washington is taught in schools today doesn’t address the way his life was. The entire slave owner part is completely and deliberately left out. Just simply the fact that he was the first president of the United States, his time as commander in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, and of course, a “founding father.”

Titles like these are true and important to his life story, but so are the ones that have been kept in the dark: the fact that as commander, Washington created rules that denied entry to all African Americans into his ranks, until he later had to allow entry of all people when the war picked up the pace. He owned slaves from the time he was 11 years old to the day he died. He never freed his slaves. Not even after his death. He left all his slaves on the Mount Vernon plantation to his wife and adopted son, who then went on to father several children with his female slaves. In his will, he did note that after his wife’s death that all slaves would be emancipated. But, that was not true for all of them. George Washington is not a man who can be accepted for what he is. He is a man who needs to be recognized as an owner of human property just as much as he is recognized for being president. 

Establishments all over the nation are named after slave owners. James Madison, an American president has over 190 schools named after him. Thomas Jefferson has over 65 schools named after him, and he owned over 600 pieces of human property or slaves.  The most of any U.S president. Ever. Hunter Holmes McGuire Hospital in Virginia is named after a Confederate doctor. These establishments are still open and running today, and the question remains why? Why do they still remain named after these people? Where is the respect? The recognition or a sliver of an apology for Black people? Nowhere to be found.

In sports today the same issue remains. Teams like the Golden State Warriors, Atlanta Braves, and the previously named Cleveland Indians, which have since been changed to the Cleveland Guardians, are all examples. These names all depict Native American trauma and pain as mascots for these sports franchises. Although teams like the Washington Redskins, now the Washington Commanders, have changed their names, it is important to note that it took 83 years to make that change. Like, really? 

Stand for the Flag (and all the flag stands for)

The Confederate flag was the flag used in the Civil War to represent the seven seceded states of the “deep south.” It is illegal to display the flag on flagpoles at Veterans Administration cemeteries. However, it is not illegal to have a Confederate flag on cars or homes, displayed on shirts, or even at a business, although at many large establishments, it’s discouraged. 

The Confederate flag is a flying representation of the fight to own people as property and extend slavery into the North and West. To preserve the God-given right to own property — property being Black people, of course. Living, breathing, loving, feeling people. The Confederate flag is still a deep part of the culture of the American South. And the Confederate flag still holds so much meaning. 

On Jan. 6, 2021, supporters of former president Donald Trump rioted and violated the U.S. Capitol building to “stop the steal.” On this day, people were holding all sorts of flags saying “Blue Lives Matter,” “Trump Won,” and “Stop the Steal,” in addition to the most important ones, the Confederate flag and the American flag. 

The Confederate flag being there is not an accident or something to look over; it is deeply important. The presence of that flag shows that people are still willing to fight for the rights their ancestors have taken away: the right to rape, abuse, corruption, and to own human beings. Side by side with the Confederate flag that day was our American flag. And figuring that out is not rocket science. Just think: Why did NFL player Colin Kaepernick kneel to the flag and national anthem? Why do an increasing number of school children sit when asked to stand to “pledge allegiance” to the flag? Here is a hint: It is not that they do not like the star/stripe combination. 

Racism is still very prevalent in today’s America. The way to fix it is not something that can be defined in words, because racism is far too complex of a problem. Instead of rewriting history and miseducating the youth, it is time to start being honest. Teach the history that is uncomfortable, regretful, guilty, and, most importantly, true. Acknowledge that racism is real and do what is possible today — the trivial things, some might say: rename a school, or two, or thousands. Talk, and change the sports team’s names.

And for Christ’s sake, take down the flag. 

Mairen Brown, 14, is an Atlanta student who has a passion for politics and issues impacting communities of color. She strives to inform and discuss topics that most people don’t talk about.

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