The Chicago Public Schools are proposing to change the names of three elementary schools named after individuals with racist records: Christopher Columbus, the explorer who enslaved Native Americans; Melville Fuller, the chief justice whose Supreme Court issued Plessy v. Ferguson, ruling that Blacks and whites could have “separate but equal” accommodations; and President James Monroe, who enslaved 178 workers on his Virginia plantation.

That’s a start, but Chicago has a long way to go before it eradicates the names of enslavers from its schools, its streets, and its parks. If we go after one enslaver, isn’t it only fair to go after all of them? That includes George Washington, whose ownership of enslaved people is generally considered less important to his legacy than his leadership of the Continental Army and his service as the nation’s first president. Washington’s name is all over Chicago: Washington Street, Washington Park, Washington Heights, George Washington Elementary School, George Washington High School, the George Washington Monument, a statue of Washington on horseback at 55th Street and Martin Luther King Drive. (The irony.) There is even a painting of Washington in the room behind the City Council chambers.

Washington was one of the most prolific enslavers in American history, and he wasn’t a good buddy to the folks who lived on his plantation, either. Washington was the wealthiest man in the Thirteen Colonies. Much of that wealth derived from the 300 workers enslaved on his plantation, Mount Vernon, both in their value as individuals and the crops they planted and harvested. Washington considered slavery a damnable institution: He was a demanding, exacting man, and it was impossible to motivate enslaved people to work up to his standards. Yet he participated in it all his life. He sold three troublesome enslaved people to the West Indies, separating them from their loved ones and likely condemning them to be worked to death on sugar plantations. When one of his wife Martha’s maids escaped, he placed an advertisement in a newspaper offering a reward for her return, and condemned “the ingratitude of the girl, who was brought up and treated more like a child than a Servant.” Slavery was all just business to General Washington. Why should he get a pass?

Donald Trump knows the movement to strip honors from enslavers is coming for Washington, and he’s made defending the Father of Our Country a plank in his culture war platform, even denying Washington enslaved Africans. During a speech last month to the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a conservative Christian group, Trump criticized the movement to change the names of schools, military facilities and other places that honor enslavers.

“How about George Washington High School?” Trump said. “‘We want the name removed from that high school.’ They don’t know why. You know, they thought he had slaves. Actually, I think he probably didn’t.” (Fact check: He did.)

If changing the name of George Washington High School makes Donald Trump unhappy, we ought to consider it. This being Chicago, there’s an easy fix to the George Washington issue: just as Douglas Park, namesake of enslaver Stephen Douglas, was renamed for Frederick Douglass, everything named after George Washington should be renamed for Harold Washington. Harold Washington Park. Harold Washington High School. The Washington Park and Washington Heights community areas (both overwhelmingly Black) henceforth refer to Harold. We can sell the Washington statue for scrap, auction off the Washington painting, and use the proceeds for Mayor Brandon Johnson’s reparations program.

Washington is the biggest-name enslaver honored in Chicago, but there are plenty of others to go after.

Thomas Jefferson: Jefferson enslaved more than 600 people over his lifetime, and sired six children with his enslaved mistress, Sally Hemings, who was not in a position to refuse his sexual advances. Here in Chicago, we have a Jefferson Park, a Jefferson Park community area, and a bust of Jefferson outside the Jefferson Park CTA.

James Madison: Another Virginia planter president, Madison enslaved 100 workers at his estate, Montpelier. Madison Street, the delineator between the north and south sides, is named in his honor. So is James Madison Elementary School at 74th and Dorchester, in the African-American Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood.

Andrew Jackson: Jackson Park is where Barack Obama, our first Black president, is building his presidential center. Just name it Obama Park. We have plenty of Chicago legends to honor. By replacing enslavers’ names with local names, we only have to grapple with our own history, rather than the entire nation’s. Andrew Jackson Language Academy on the Near West Side was renamed Chicago World Language in 2021, the first of 30 schools named after enslavers to have its name changed. 

John Marshall: The fourth chief justice of the United States was another Virginia planter who enslaved 100 workers. He’s also the namesake of Marshall High School, whose student body is 96 percent Black.

Patrick Henry: “Give me liberty or give me death” did not apply to the workers Henry enslaved on his Virginia farm. Patrick Henry Elementary School in Irving Park bears his name.

Enslavers are part of our nation’s historical fabric. They’re on our stamps, our coins, our currency. On the federal level, that’s unlikely to change. George Washington will always be the face on the dollar bill and the quarter, Thomas Jefferson on the nickel. But slavery was once part of the nation’s fabric, and it was abolished. Here on the local level, in the nation’s most progressive city, with the nation’s most progressive big-city mayor, can’t we abolish honors for enslavers, too? By George, I think we can.