Visiting U.S. historical sites + recognizing that history affects our today and tomorrow

Over the last 11 years, Chris and I have visited pretty much all the U.S. presidential libraries and museums, as well as civil rights museums, historical monuments, sites, buildings, tombs, and cemeteries. While I am sure it is a huge generalization to say this, what I’ve noticed about the conversations I overhear while at all of these sites is that the vast majority of the people visiting tend to be more on the progressive side. Parents bring their kids here to teach them history; adults come to learn more about their own country, or the history that perhaps, they were not fully taught in school (self included). They recognize the connection of the past to our present and future, and they have conversations about this while visiting.

This long weekend, we visited Mount Vernon, which is George Washington’s home and mansion, as well as Fort McHenry, a U.S. historical site known as the birthplace and inspiration of the U.S. national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” I wasn’t sure how open Mount Vernon would be in terms of addressing all of George Washington’s hundreds of slaves I knew he had, but amazingly, they actually did address it, and quite openly and often. While many would argue that the way they address it is a bite muted, the fact that they repeatedly mentioned the “enslaved labor” or “enslaved people,” and that they had huge sections of the estate calling out the enslaved people’s living quarters, conditions, and work, shows that they’re not trying to cover up the past.

At one point while walking around the grounds, I came across some young children, likely walking along side their parents after visiting the female slave houses. The kids were asking their parents why the former president of the U.S. would have kept slaves and asking if Washington knew it was “wrong.” The parents were trying to explain it in the context of history, while also acknowledging how wrong it was. They even tried to connect the wrongness of Washington having slave labor to the persistent racism that goes on today. While I’m not sure those very young minds could fully grasp the gravity of what their parents were saying, I silently commended the parents for not only explaining the past so neatly, but also attempting to connect it to the present day for the kids to try to understand. There is very little possibility that those parents are advocating for all these stupid book bans that are an embarrassment of the U.S. today.

And then I thought: I suppose those types of conversations will be had by us when Pookster eventually learns different things, understands more, and asks us questions. And we’ll need to find ways to neatly package all this information without white-washing the truth and fully educating her.

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