Celebrate freedom; let bigotry die

Concerning the removal of some Confederate statues, President Trump asked, “Are statues of slave owners George Washington and Thomas Jefferson coming down next?”

Here’s a new flash, folks. Human beings — that’s right, all human beings – are flawed. Yes, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers owned slaves.

In his will, President Washington wrote specific instructions for freeing the Mount Vernon slaves. Upon the death of both President and Martha Washington, their slaves were to be set free. This happened in 1801.

The history of Thomas Jefferson and slavery is much more complex. Thomas Jefferson once wrote that slavery was like holding “a wolf by the ear. We can neither hold him, nor safely let him go.”

The same man who wrote in our Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” That same man, also owned slaves. Conflict and confusion fogged the early American history of slavery and the dream of freedom for all. Our Founding Fathers believed that, “all men are created equal.”

But, obviously, that did not include slaves, nor did it include women.

These conflicts in belief were embodied in Thomas Jefferson. Some historians feel that, based on his writing, Jefferson felt that African slaves could not survive on their own. He felt that slaves should be freed, but that they should be sent, as freemen, back to Africa or to the West Indies.

Jefferson feared that, whether the slaves were freed or not, his cherished, fledgling country, the United States of America, would be destroyed by slavery. He was right. Slavery almost destroyed our union.

Remember, that all of our Founding Fathers were guilty of treason against Great Britain. To assure the freedom of our fledgling nation, they committed treason. They were brave. They risked hanging for treason. They deserve our respect for that.

However, many of them were flawed when it came to the issue of slavery.

Despite the conflicts over slavery that existed within Washington and Jefferson, they were the Founding Fathers of this nation. George Washington is still referred to as the Father of this Country. As our first president, he set the standard that was followed for generations of other presidents. He should be honored and revered. I am proud to live on Washington Avenue.

Jefferson authored the Declaration of Independence. For that alone, we should erect his statue in every town, village and township that bears his name. His contributions to our young nation have filled volumes of history books.

But remember, Washington and Jefferson fought for the freedom of the United States of America. They never fought against the United States of America. They were rebels and, as such, fought against Great Britain.

It was the rebellion that they led that prompted Thomas Jefferson to write out our specific reasons for breaking our bonds with England. That document is loved and revered as the Declaration of Independence.

Decades later, as several southern states seceded from the union of the United States of America, several of those southern states also felt compelled to write and sign their own declarations – their Declaration of Secession. In each declaration of secession, the primary reason stated for secession was the issue of slavery.

Now, here is my opinion about the confederate statues that everyone is so worked up about.

We rebelled against England. There are no statues in England of the American rebels Jefferson, Adams, Madison or Franklin. Surprisingly, there is one statue of President George Washington in Trafalgar Square. The statue was presented to Lord Curzon, who accepted it on behalf of his nation.

This all happened 125 years after Washington died. By then, our relationship with England had healed. We had become the strongest of allies.

However, there are times when I wonder if the conflict between the north and the south ever truly ended? Just yesterday, I saw written on the hood of a pick-up truck, “The South Shall Rise Again.” No. No, it will not.

The Civil War was fought primarily over the issue of slavery. Read the various Declarations of Secessions that were issued by confederate states. It was about slavery. That war was fought and is finished.

The North won. The Union prevailed. The South lost. The South will not rise up again. To allow that to happen would be a disgrace to the words of our Declaration of Independence and a disgrace to the thousands of brave men who died defending the Union and eliminating slavery.

Statues and memorials have been built throughout the south to honor men like Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis and others. There are colleges, highways and military bases named in honor of confederate leaders. They put up a good fight, but they fought for a very dishonorable cause. They were traitors. We must never forget that.

Leave the statues up or take them down, but do not place false honor on the Civil War.

No one is trying to erase history. That cannot and should not be done. But, do not try to romanticize the true history of violence, slavery and persecution that was inflicted upon an entire race of people.

Let that hatred and bigotry die. Now, let us celebrate freedom and equality for all Americans.

Randy Riley is President of Council of Wilmington.

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Randy Riley

Contributing columnist