Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
George Washington’s name is inseparable from America, and not only from the nation’s history. It identifies countless streets, buildings, mountains, bridges, monuments, cities — and people.
In a puzzling twist, most of these people are black. The 2000 U.S. Census counted 163,036 people with the surname Washington. Ninety percent of them were African American, a far higher black percentage than for any other common name.
The story of how Washington became the “blackest name” begins with slavery and takes a sharp turn after the Civil War, when all blacks were allowed the dignity of a surname.
Even before Emancipation, many enslaved black people chose their own surnames to establish their identities. Afterward, some historians theorize, large numbers of blacks chose the name Washington in the process of asserting their freedom.