George Washington and his Black slaves


MSR EditorialBy Dr. Luke Tripp

Guest Commentator


The sanitized image of America is built with a chronological sequence of myths and distortions. The American Revolution is falsely presented as a righteous struggle of American colonists against British tyranny.

Actually, this war had little to do with lofty values and beliefs in freedom, justice, liberty, and the dignity of humankind. Moreover, a critical examination of the American Revolution reveals a struggle for more political power, economic control, and material wealth between two White elite groups rather than a heroic struggle between the forces of freedom and tyranny.

George Washington is portrayed as a hero who fought to end oppression under the rule of King George III. But Washington, like his adversary King George III, was seeking greater power, control and wealth. He was not concerned about ending White indentured servitude, let alone freeing his own slaves. The only people who fought for basic humanitarian values and freedom in that war were the 5,000 Blacks who fought on the American side and the even greater number of Blacks — 20,000 — who fought on the British side.

George Washington was born into a wealthy family and pursued greater wealth and more power throughout his life. His hundreds of Black slaves, who were under his absolute control, lived wretched lives in a state of total degradation on his tobacco plantation in Virginia. He was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, slave owner in America during his time.


George Washington and the names of Black schools

In the 1990s school officials and parents at the former George Washington Elementary School in New Orleans voted to change the name of that school because the nation’s first president was a slave owner. Carl Galmon, a civil rights leader in New Orleans who led the campaign to change school names, said, “Why should African Americans want their kids to pay respect or pay homage to someone who enslaved their ancestors?” The city adopted a policy in 1992 to rename schools that were named after slave owners.

The school board’s policy left it to school communities to start the process to change a school’s name. The process to change the school’s name began when a new principal, Lee Caston, arrived in 1996. Students and parents helped officials choose names, which were narrowed to three choices, and the parents and staff voted. Then they forwarded their choice to the school board for approval.

The school is now named Dr. Charles Richard Drew Elementary after the Black surgeon who developed methods to preserve blood plasma.


George Washington versus Dr. Charles Drew 

Dr. Drew researched in the field of blood transfusions, developed improved techniques for blood storage, and applied his expert knowledge to developing large-scale blood banks early in World War II. This allowed medics to save thousands of lives of the Allied forces.

As the most prominent African American in the field, Drew protested against the unscientific practice of separating blood on the specious notion of biological races. His action, as expected, drew the ire of the White medical establishment, which practiced racial discrimination.

The Black parents wanted inspirational role models like Dr. Drew for their children to emulate. They wish to instill in them the values that Dr. Drew’s parents instilled in him, which included an emphasis on academic excellence, civic knowledge, self-discipline, responsibility and empathy. The Black community must continue to struggle against White indoctrination and to make our educational institutions reflect our highest values.


Dr. Luke Tripp is a professor in the Department of Ethnic and Women’s Studies at St. Cloud State University. He welcomes reader responses to lstripp@st