Growing up in Northern Virginia, we often took our out-of-town visitors to Mount Vernon and Monticello. What I remember most about being ushered past the red velvet ropes through the crowded, 18th century-styled rooms is how the guides refused to answer my questions.
In response to the guide’s prideful exclamation that “The General” always wore perfectly starched shirts, I asked how much the women who ironed them were paid. I was keen to know because my mother paid me $5 each Sunday night to iron five of my father’s shirts for the upcoming week. I sincerely wondered how George Washington’s help was compensated.
No wonder I understood so little of our country’s foundational history; slavery was literally a sidebar in my K-12 history books.
Still today, schools teach our children to recite the Declaration of Independence while never learning about the only book Thomas Jefferson published, Notes on The State of Virginia. Our second president’s 1785 book argued that “Blacks … are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.” To justify white supremacy, Jefferson concluded: “Nature, habit, opinion has drawn indelible lines of distinction between them.”
As Americans, we should learn from history and hold ourselves to higher standards as we teach our children the entire truth, however uncomfortable, about our founding principles. Teaching the legacy of slavery today will allow us to see the origins of racial and social inequality in order to effectively address the divisive issues that continue to weaken our country today.
Our children must understand our past to be equipped to resolve these societal challenges for the next generation of civic leaders in our communities. Let’s erase the lines drawn by our founding fathers and celebrate our common American values of life, liberty, and justice for all.