Persons of Character

This morning, we found our way through the Washington traffic maze to the Kennedy Center.  Hamilton!

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From there, we crossed the Potomac River into Virginia, thus linking DC to our 2012 and 2013 Rides from NYC through Virginia  . . .

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. . . and bicycled to George Washington’s plantation at Mount Vernon.  The entire Virginia journey was on a paved bicycle path, except for a couple of miles on quiet Alexandria streets.

Mr. Kenneth King still works.  He has lived in the Alexandria area all his life.  After retiring from government service, he became a gardener.  He told us about his nearby home town, Gum Springs, settled by his formerly enslaved ancestors.  He said the Alexandria area is booming, and that people are coming here from all over the world.  The local adults know him.  All the children at the nearby school greet him on the street.  His popularity says much about Mr. King’s character.  He is is a lucky and happy man.

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Mr. King is 87.  He looks younger than Jeffrey.

When Jeffrey told Mr. King that we are traveling the country to listen to people and to talk about immigration and refugee rights, he said, “Bless your heart!”  He said that we project an aura of kindness, generosity, and friendship. We’re gratified that Mr. King validated our Human Rights First Ambassadorial approach.

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After 19 miles, we arrived at Washington’s home.

We locked the bicycle, and Dustin put our bag in a safe place.

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Dustin just finished his first year at William and Mary.  He approached college with exactly the right attitude: he took a broad variety of classes in sciences and humanities and is considering his options.

When Dustin heard that asylum applicants are not guaranteed a lawyer, he told Jeffrey that he is disturbed by many aspects of U.S. immigration law.  He agrees that the law does not reflect American values or common sense.  Dustin’s thoughtful empathy shows him to be a man of character.

While I waited in the bicycle bag, Jeffrey toured the Washington mansion (no indoor photos allowed) and explored some of the grounds and outbuildings.  We show only a few sights here.

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The original Mansion had 4 rooms.  At Washington’s death, it had 21.

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Washington’s lands covered 10 miles by 5 miles (16 km by 8 km).  He was a progressive, scientific farmer.

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Grazing bovine.

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Wallowing pig.

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George’s tomb.  His wife, Martha, is entombed to the left.  Behind the black screen, about 50 Washington relatives were laid to rest.

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A reconstructed slave cabin.

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This 1929 monument on the slaves’ burial ground was the first of its kind in the USA.  Another monument was erected a few feet away in 1983.  Many U.S. presidents owned slaves; George Washington was the only president to free all his slaves, albeit upon his death.

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Mt. Vernon has colorful, musical birds.

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A view of Maryland across the Potomac River from the rear terrace.

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Slaves spun thread six days per week.

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This is part of reconstructed enslaved women’s quarters.  The men lived in similarly spare surroundings, often sleeping two to a bunk.

One of the docents said that before the Revolution, Washington tried and failed to have slavery banned from British North America.  He recognized that it was immoral.  And inefficient: in Philadelphia, Washington saw a structure that would have taken his slaves a month to build, erected by free black wage-earning men in two days.

We think of all this when considering the contoversy about monuments to traitors of the so-called Confederacy.  Some defenders of the status quo say if we no longer lionize Robert Lee, the next to go will be slave-owning Founders like Washington.  Nonsense.  Washington built our country; he did not try to destroy it.  He freed his slaves; he did not start a war to keep them in chains.

And we’ll repeat a 1783 Washington quotation that we published last year:  “The bosom of America is open to receive not only the Opulent and respectable Stranger, but the oppressed and persecuted of all Nations and Religions; whom we shall welcome to a participation of all our rights and privileges, if by decency and propriety of conduct they appear to merit the enjoyment.”  This is the language of a decent man.

Yesterday we saw the Washington Monument (seen again today, from Virginia, behind the Jefferson Memorial).

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We said yesterday that the obelisk does not evoke Washington’s character.  Here’s something that does.

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This panel, part of a stained glass wall in the Orientation Center, tells the famous story of the cherry tree.

Of course Washington lied.  And he did other troubling things.  He kept slaves.  He had his soldiers burn First Nations villages.  Et cetera.  He was human, therefore imperfect.

But you know something of a person’s character by the stories told about him.  And by what the person says and does.

Our country’s leaders don’t even try to be like Washington anymore.

One thought on “Persons of Character

  1. Genesis 6:9 “Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God.” Just as we recognize Noah as being righteous “for his generation,” so can we think of George Washington as being a step closer to morally ideal than most of his generation, by our current standards. Is it hubris for us to project the next generation’s moral progress, and try to live beyond our generation’s standard, or even ideal? What choice do we have? That’s how we push the envelope to progress morally in each generation.

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