The riots cascading across the world have included many strange scenes, but few stranger than this: a Washington, D. C. plaque honoring Fredrick Douglass spray-painted with an expletive. The plaque celebrates Douglass’s heroic efforts to lead a bank for freed slaves.
Like statues of abolitionists John Greenleaf Whittier, Ulysses Grant, and Matthias Baldwin, “anti-racist” rioters treated Douglass’s memorial as if he was complicit in racism simply for living in the past. This erasing of history may have played well in the moment, when the police staggered, and the windows cracked, but it will not play well in the long term. History can be attacked, but it cannot be deleted.
Long ago, Douglass said this: “The soul that is within me no man can degrade.” What is true of his soul is true of his legacy. Anarchist rioters may have tried to degrade Douglass’s contributions, but no one can deface his memory.