Republican President Donald Trump on Tuesday wondered out loud how far the removal of Confederate monuments would go by invoking the name of the first U.S. president and hero of the Revolutionary War, underscoring the fact that George Washington owned slaves.
“So will George Washington now lose his status? … Are we going to take down statues to George Washington?” Trump questioned reporters. “So this week it’s Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson’s coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after?”
Trump was roundly criticized for those words. Dana Milbank of the Washington Post wrote that Trump “put the father of our country and the author of the Declaration of Independence on the same moral plane as two men who made war on America.”
Well, perhaps Milbank should have a chat with Bishop James Dukes, pastor of Liberation Christian Center in Chicago, who wants city officials to remove a bronze statue of George Washington on horseback and his name from Washington Park on the south side, WBBM-TV reported.
Dukes told WBBM that Washington is no hero to blacks.
“When I see [the statue], I see a person who fought for the liberties, and I see people that fought for the justice and freedom of white America, because at that moment, we were still chattel slavery, and was three-fifths of humans,” Dukes told the station. “Some people out here ask me … ‘Well, you know, he taught his slaves to read.’ That’s almost sad; the equivalent of someone who kidnaps you, that you gave them something to eat.”
The pastor also said former President Andrew Jackson’s name should be removed from nearby Jackson Park since he also was a slave owner, WBBM said.
And Dukes has a novel idea that would preserve the Washington and Jackson names of the parks — by honoring different Washingtons and Jacksons. For instance, he told the station, Washington Park could be named after former Mayor Harold Washington.
And Jackson Park?
Well, it could be named after the Rev. Jesse Jackson or even late pop superstar Michael Jackson, Dukes told WBBM.
Indeed, a thriller of a plan.
Dukes told WBBM he’s not trying to erase history. Rather, he told the station that black people should be able to decide who’s honored in their communities “because we have to tell the stories to our children of who these persons are.”
He also told the station, “In an African-American community, it’s a slap in the face and it’s a disgrace for them to honor someone who was a slave owner.”
“There’s no way plausible that we would even think that they would erect a Malcolm X statue in Mount Greenwood, Lincoln Park, or any of that. Not that say Malcolm X was a bad guy; they just would not go for it,” he said to WBBM. “Native Americans would not even think about putting up a Custer statue, because of the atrocities that he plagued upon Native Americans. And for them to say to us ‘just accept it’ is actually insulting.”
Dukes told the station he sent letters to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Park District asking them to change the names of Washington and Jackson parks.
“I am feeling ambivalent that I would have to walk my child, attend a parade or enjoy a game of softball in a park that commemorates the memory of a slave owner,” his letter reads, which he shared on Facebook. “Therefore, I call on the immediate removal of President George Washington and President Andrew Jackson names from the parks located on the southeast side of Chicago. They should not have the distinct honor of being held as heroes when they actively participated in the slave trade.”
The mayor’s office didn’t immediately respond to WBBM’s requests for comment.
Duke’s request comes amid a growing wave of Confederate statue removals, both officially sanctioned — and not — following deadly demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend regarding the removal of a Confederate monument there.