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We cannot escape the consequences of escaping reality

Judge Andrew P. Napolitano on

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." -- George Santayana

I am amazed at the efforts around the country to remove and destroy painful mementos of our history. One would think that historical figures need to be perceived as perfect to survive the winds of change that buffet their statues and portraits, and the employment of their names. Some of this is decent and civilized. Some of it is misguided and violent. All of it is unnecessary.

When a statue is erected to an historical figure, the erection is a statement about the balance of the person's life worth. It is not a claim of perfection.

The Father of our Country owned more than 100 slaves. When the Capital of the U.S. was in Philadelphia, at a time when all slaves were deemed by Pennsylvania law to be freed after six months of their entry into the state, George and Martha Washington -- he, the president of the United States at the time -- rotated their slaves into and out of the state, so that none would qualify for freedom.

The same man who wrote in the Declaration of Independence that "all men are created equal" also fathered numerous children with one of his 600 slaves. Do you think Sally Hemings was free to reject a years-long sexual union with Thomas Jefferson, the man who owned her?

And the author of the Constitution, who owned at least 100 slaves, defended his exploitation of them into his presidency. The same James Madison who artfully and articulately defended natural rights for white people, hardly considered Blacks to be in the same category.

 

Should we really forget the three of them?

We have come a long way since the attitudes and the eras that permitted the most grotesque exploitation of human beings by others, the most abominable legal institution in our history, the most hypocritical suppression of human worth in the history of the western world -- slavery in America. Though it legally ended with the adoption of the 13th Amendment in 1868, slavery has had an afterlife almost as hateful as the institution itself.

The afterlife has consisted of laws, customs and attitudes intended to repress the lives and liberties of African Americans. These repressions included Jim Crow laws, lynchings, official and forced segregation, denials of constitutionally guaranteed liberties on the basis of skin color, the KKK and, in the post-World War II era, the generally accepted attitudes on the part of white police officers and the politicians who fund them that brutalizing Blacks was somehow acceptable and even lawful.

What is the common thread in slavery's afterlife? The use of government for hateful purposes.

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