George Washington Meets Black Lives Matter

Detail from John Trumbull’s 1780 painting of General George Washington with an enslaved aide, Billy Lee (Image Credit: Wikimedia)

“Where am I?” George Washington sat up in his hospital bed, blinking.

“Good morning, Mr. President,” a young woman stepped forward. “It is an honor to meet you. You are in a time machine. We are scientists from the year 2241.”

“What is this?” Washington reached for the IV needle in his left arm.

“Please don’t touch that, Sir. That medicine is healing you.”

“I was dying…”

“Yes, Mr. President. Moments before your death, we brought you here.”

“But, why…?”

“We’re historians. Having learned all we could from documents, we now use time travel to bring major historical figures to the future for study. With our modern medicine, you’ll live in comfort and luxury for another 50 years, at least. And — if you’re willing — we’d like to interview you.”

“But, Mrs. Washington…”

“She didn’t see. We replaced your body with a lookalike cadaver. No one in 1799 will know the difference. Martha lives another three years, and we’ll fetch her, too, before she dies. You’ll see her tomorrow.”

Washington nodded slowly.

“You’re wearing… men’s trousers.”

“Yes, Sir. Women have been wearing pants for 300 years now. Much has changed. Women are now equal to men in every way.”

“I see. What are those windows?” Washington gestured toward the array of active television screens on the opposite wall.

“The time machine is stopped for refueling in the year 2020. Those screens are picking up TV news broadcasts from that year. It’s like the newspapers of your time, but in a visual format.”

“Remarkable. What is happening there?”

“2020 was a year of crisis. Police brutality against Black Americans led to the largest mass demonstrations in US history. Braving a deadly pandemic, good people poured into the streets in peaceful protest, demanding an end to 400 years of racial injustice.”

“Peaceful? There is fighting and fire on that screen.”

“That screen is an untrustworthy news source. They deceive their viewers through selective coverage.”

Like Jefferson’s newspapers.”

“Right. Or Hamilton’s. Fortunately, more responsible journalism emerged a century after your time. Note how the other screens mostly show nonviolent demonstrations. That’s because 93% of the protests were in fact completely peaceful. Even in the few cases where violence broke out, more than 99% of the protesters still practiced perfect nonviolence. All the trouble came from a handful of Communist and neo-Nazi rioters, some looters, and several overzealous policemen. Protests in 2020 were far less violent than those in your time.”

Washington nodded gravely. “Boston mobs committed some excesses.”

“Not just in Boston: The burning of the Gaspee, Patriot massacres of Loyalists…”

The Founding Father’s face flushed red.

“Don’t worry, Sir. We recognize those atrocities as outliers. We remember your Revolution for its soaring legacy of liberty and equality, and for the heroic, honorable conduct of leaders like you. We judge your Revolution by its mainstream — not by the bad behavior of a few vicious thugs. We view the 2020 protests similarly.”

“They demand racial justice? Women were equal to men, but Blacks remained inferior to whites? How long did slavery persist?”

“All races and sexes are equal in 2241, but that was not yet true in 2020. Slavery ended only in 1865, after a ruinous Civil War. No armed conflict ever killed more Americans.”

“How terrible. I do not understand. In my time, we knew slavery violated every principle of our Revolution. Northern states were already abolishing it. We thought the South would soon follow. I freed my slaves in my will to set an example.”

“Slavery became much more profitable after you died.”

“Alas. Still, if slavery ended in 1865, then why did racial injustice remain in 2020?”

“After the Civil War, racist laws kept Black Americans separate, unequal, and poor for another century. Mass protests in the 1960s ended most forms of legal inequality, but pervasive systemic racism persisted until those protests in 2020 prompted bigger changes.”

“Now that mob is pulling down my statue.”

“Yes. A few rioters in 2020 were painfully ignorant of history. They wrecked monuments to anyone who ever owned slaves or said something racist. That made sense in some cases: traitors who started a Civil War to save slavery deserve no public statues. But leaders like you deserve to be judged on your complete legacy. Your flaws were real, but vastly outweighed by your achievements: Heroic victor of the Revolutionary War, Framer of the Constitution, a great president, Father of Our Country. So, don’t worry. Your statue will go back up, Mr. President.”

“You may call me Mr. Washington. John Adams is president now.”

“As you wish.”

“Who is president in 2020?”

“Let’s leave that for another day. Rest now, Mr. Washington. We’re ready to make the jump to the future.”

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