Activists have had recent success obtaining the removal of Confederate statues such as those of General Robert E. Lee from public places. The next step was changing the names of Army bases named after Confederate officers. Many are now directing their attention to U.S presidents who were slave-owners, specifically Washington, Jefferson and Jackson, since their faces are on U.S currency. There is a real difference between Robert E. Lee and George Washington.
Lee took an oath of allegiance to the U.S. Constitution, then he violated his oath and took up arms against that Constitution. When Washington owned slaves, that was totally legal in Virginia, under colonial law and U.S. law, thus punishing Washington would be an example of an ex post facto law, which is prohibited in the First Amendment to our Constitution. This would be true for any American who legally owned slaves prior to 1865.
Now activists are after President Woodrow Wilson due to his support for segregation. Legal segregation was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, so Wilson was within his rights to foster racial separation. If we seek to discredit segregationists prior to 1964, there is list of laws and actions that today would be illegal or immoral, yet were legitimate in the past. Do we remove the names and statues of politicians who supported the forced removal of Native American peoples from their land (see Trail of Tears), the Chinese Exclusion Act, the denial of the vote to women, the forced removal of Japanese Americans from their homes and businesses in 1942, the criminalization of homosexual behavior, the denial of public access to information on birth control, and more?
Why stop with politicians? Henry Ford was an industrial genius, yet he was a virulent anti-Semite. Do we know enough about the people behind the brands we use, such as Chrysler, Firestone, Proctor & Gamble, Dell, Kellogg, Macy, and Hershey? Many great men and women had their personal foibles, is it our responsibility to erase their names when a foible is discovered?
This is a great country but we are not nor have ever been perfect. Put the Confederate statues in a museum, re-name those 10 Army bases, and vow to improve our education system, so that Americans know and appreciate our history. We should continue to move the U.S. towards the noble goals of our creation.
Is there prejudice within our society and is there inequity embedded in our culture? Indeed, there is, yet I challenge you to find a nation as diverse as ours that has so many success stories. We must improve, but we must celebrate our greatness.