'Redskins' is gone, but changing 'Washington' would be a much bigger job

'Redskins' is gone, but changing 'Washington' would be a much bigger job
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The Washington Redskins have announced that after 87 years they will change their name. The team’s name and logo have long been targeted as offensive to some, and understandably so. Recent events created the momentum to make it happen.

Will it stop there? Maybe not. 

Some now claim it’s time to rethink and rename certain cities and counties. Writing for Time magazine, Caleb Gayle says, “Perhaps we need to do this [i.e., the tear down movement] not just for statues and monuments and schools and sports teams but for cities and counties too.” 

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Gayle focuses on cities and counties named after Confederate military and elected leaders. But like the destruction of statues, it probably wouldn’t stop there. If statues of George Washington and other Founding Fathers can be targeted, why not the places named after them. 

For those whose goal is to “cancel” any vestige of the white men who founded and initially governed the United States, they have a really big job ahead of them.

For more than 200 years, Americans have sought to remember and honor their founders by naming cities, towns, counties, parks, buildings and even private sector companies — not to mention one state and the nation’s capital — after them.  

Any effort to cancel all, or even the most visible, of those names won’t be easy. Both public resistance and the number to be changed will make the task daunting. Pulling down a statue of a revered founder is one thing; getting a city, county or state to change its name can’t be done by rowdy mobs wearing masks.  

The following is not a complete list because various sources differ on their counts, but at least it provides some idea as to how big the cancel-the-founders task would be.

George Washington: The World Atlas says there are 88 cities and towns named after the first U.S. president, George Washington. Indeed, the Atlas says it’s the most common name in the country.

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In addition, there are 31 counties named after our first president, 11 colleges and universities, five forts and several bridges. 

Thomas Jefferson: There are 26 counties and 14 cities named after the third president, as well as more than 50 high schools and numerous streets and parks.

James Madison: There are some 10 towns and cities and 18 counties named after our fourth president. 

James Monroe: As far as memorials go, our fifth president appears to be even more popular than our third and fourth, with 30 towns and cities and 18 counties named for him. Plus, lots of townships and at least one fort. 

Andrew Jackson: While Andrew Jackson isn’t considered a founder, he was certainly an important early president — important enough that his face and majestic mane appear on the $20 bill. Besides being the third-largest slave-owning president (after Jefferson and Washington, respectively), Jackson is also faulted for his attacks on and treatment of Native Americans, especially the Creeks and Cherokees. Even so, some 17 cities and towns and about 20 counties have been named after the seventh president. 

Christopher Columbus: Though he never set foot in North America, Americans have long honored the man who “discovered” the New World in 1492. About half of the states have one or more statues or busts of the explorer, and more than 50 U.S. communities and one major university, Columbia, are named after him. 

Yes, these men engaged in some practices that we find abhorrent today. And it is not a defense of them or their practices to point out that times and mores were different then. Yet the founders also took important steps to create a country that made it possible to move toward more equality, which it has done.

Given the hundreds of cities, towns, counties, schools, businesses, buildings and bridges – not just statues – that seek to honor the founders’ good deeds, it’s very unlikely the cancel-history crowd will succeed in eliminating their memory.

Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @MerrillMatthews.