GMU President on Name Change: George ‘Mason is the Very Embodiment of the Duality of America’

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GMU President Dr. Gregory Washington.  (Screenshot)

GMU President Dr. Gregory Washington. (Screenshot)

(CNS News) — Dr. Gregory Washington, president of George Mason University (GMU), said that the school will not change its name, despite the fact that George Mason, a Founding Father, was a slave-holder.

Dr. Gregory Washington is the first black president of GMU; he officially joined the university on July 1, 2020 but has been working closely with the school since February, when his appointment was announced.

Founding Father George Mason.

Founding Father George Mason.

“At George Mason University, by keeping Mason in our name, we keep both lessons of his life active in our own quests to form a more perfect union — and certainly a better university,” said Dr. Washington in an article for NBC News.

“We can neither run away from the atrocities committed throughout this nation’s history, nor from the fact that the core principles established by founders like Mason — like fairness, equality and liberty —were also the foundational principles employed by the civil rights and other movements,” he added.

In the article for NBC News, Dr. Washington responded to questions about the school’s name that he has received this year, and explained that it was a good time to examine the school’s name in light of Confederate statues being taken down and sport’s teams’ names being changed. 

 

Washington set the stage for his response, saying, “A majority of the founders of the United States held people in enslavement, including 41 of the 56 signatories of the Declaration of Independence, and 25 of the 55 men who wrote the U.S. Constitution. George Mason — of whose namesake university in Virginia I am now not only the president but its first black president — was one of them.”

Washington made sure to point out Mason’s legacy. He highlighted that Mason had penned the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which would become a major inspiration for Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence and eventually the Constitution’s Bill of Rights

“Should we then now continue to recognize George Mason and other founders as brilliant and devoted patriots?” Washington asked. “Or should we condemn them for ignoring the basic ideals by which they defined this country?”

(Screenshot, Equal Justice Initiative)

(Screenshot, Equal Justice Initiative)

“We should do both,” Washington said, answering his own question. 

“Because Mason is the very embodiment of the duality of America, which we celebrate for its insistence on liberty and justice for all, even though it enslaved and segregated millions of its own people for most of its history.”

Washington clarified how Mason and other Founding Fathers should be viewed, “The founders, who created and united this nation, are and should be seen as fundamentally distinct from the Confederate generals who separated from this great nation and then also took up arms against it.” 

“We can neither run away from the atrocities committed throughout this nation’s history, nor from the fact that the core principles established by founders like Mason — like fairness, equality and liberty —were also the foundational principles employed by the civil rights and other movements,” Washington continued. 

“At George Mason University, by keeping Mason in our name, we keep both lessons of his life active in our own quests to form a more perfect union — and certainly a better university,” he said.

“We can and will transform George Mason University into the living embodiment of the ideals its namesake set forth with his pen, even as he undermined them in his actions,” said Washington.  “But focusing intently on the name of George Mason doesn’t do that.”

Washington added that he has recently started a task force which will address any unfair inequities that exist in “hiring and recruitment, curriculum development and university business practices.”



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