President Donald Trump asked during a combative press conference Tuesday if people would call for statues of America’s founding president, George Washington, to be removed. By Wednesday morning, he had an answer.
One Chicago pastor is calling on Mayor Rahm Emanuel to remove a statue of George Washington and change the name of Washington Park on the South Side, WBBM-TV reported, because the United States’s first president was a slave owner.
Bishop James Dukes, the pastor of Liberation Christian Center in Chicago, said the bronze statue of Washington on horseback is offensive.
“When I see that, 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. Some people out here ask me, say, ‘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.”
Despite having led the American Army in the Revolutionary War, playing a critical role in the country’s founding, Dukes said Washington isn’t much of a role model for black Americans.
The pastor went on to say there’s “no way” the city would consider erecting a statue of controversial activist Malcolm X, comparing a sculpture of Washington in a majority black community to propping up a statue of Lt. Col. George Custer, who led federal troops in battle against Native Americans, on a reservation.
Rather than erase history, though, Dukes said he believes black Americans should be able to decide who is memorialized in their communities.
“I think we should be able to identify and decide who we declare heroes in our communities, because we have to tell the stories to our children of who these persons are,” he explained. “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.”
Dukes’s request is particularly noteworthy, given it comes less than 24 hours after Trump wondered aloud if such a demand was on the horizon.
“Was George Washington a slave owner? So will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down statues to George Washington?” the president asked Tuesday. “[S]o you know what? It’s fine. You’re changing history, you’re changing culture.”
In a Facebook post, Dukes said he sent letters to both the Emanuel administration and the Chicago Park District:
The pastor also said a park named after former President Andrew Jackson should be renamed because he, too, owned slaves.
Dukes said it would be OK to maintain the Washington and Jackson Park names if they were reclassified in honor of former Chicago Mayor Harold Washington and the Rev. Jesse Jackson or Michael Jackson, respectively.