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The Facts —
- Tuesday night, around 100 people protested a statue on the University of Virginia campus of President Thomas Jefferson, the school’s founder.
- Protesters placed a black tarp over the statue, placed signs on it that called Jefferson a “racist” and “rapist.” Protesters also started “Black Lives Matter” chants, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
- The chants included “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA” and replaced “fascist USA” with “racist UVA.”
— Union-Tribune Ideas (@sdutIdeas) September 13, 2017
- Charlottesville newspaper The Daily Progress reported that the protest was against the university’s response to the recent white nationalist demonstrations.
- A speaker addressing the crowd said, according to The Daily Progress:
“One month ago, we stood on the front lines in downtown Charlottesville as all manner of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and neo-fascists swarmed the area. Two months ago, the Ku Klux Klan rallied in their safe space, fully robed and fully protected by multiple law enforcement agencies who brutalized and tear gassed peaceful counter-protesters.”
- The protesters called on the school’s administration to adhere to UVA’s Black Student Alliance’s list of demands, which was published last month.
- The list of demands includes the balancing of “UVA’s historical landscape.” On the Thomas Jefferson statue, the list states:
“The statue of Jefferson serves as an emblem of white supremacy, and should be re-contextualized with a plaque to include that history. Additionally, more buildings named after prominent white supremacists, eugenicists, or slaveholders should be renamed after people of marginalized groups.”
- The demands include increasing the number of African-Americans in the student body and faculty.
— Pamela Sharky (@Pamela_Sharky13) September 13, 2017
Thomas Jefferson, UVA, and Slavery —
- President Jefferson helped found the University of Virginia and took part in planning the school’s architectural layout and curriculum.
- UVA celebrates “Founders Day” on Jefferson’s birthday (13 April) every year. The events include Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medals, honoring individuals in architecture, law, citizen leadership, and global innovation.
— UVA ODOS (@UVAODOS) April 13, 2016
- Jefferson owned more than 600 slaves during his lifetime, according to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation’s website for Monticello.
- Jefferson’s original draft of the Declaration of Independence criticized the institution of slavery. He wrote that King George had supported the slave trade and the inhumane treatment of Africans, which Jefferson called “execrable” and an “assemblage of horrors.”
- Here is a copy of the original passage:
“[King George] has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where Men should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain this execrable commerce. And that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people on whom he has obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed again the Liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.”
- Congress removed the passage on slavery, which Jefferson attributed to the political pressure brought by the delegations from South Carolina and Georgia, according to the New York Public Library.
- In 1784, Jefferson proposed the prohibition of slavery in new western territories. The Continental Congress initially rejected his proposal but, in 1787, barred slavery from future western states.
- Rumors persist that Jefferson had romantic relationships with his slaves, most notably Sally Hemings. Jefferson freed all of Hemings’ children, and northern newspapers accused him of being their father. DNA samples have not been able to confirm the allegations, according the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.
Supporters of Removing Jefferson’s Statue —
- The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that a speaker addressing the crowd said:
“With every new horror that arises each month, each day, there has been an unparalleled resistance of people who say no to white supremacy, no to fascism, no to all forms of oppression. And we recognize and honor the fact that this resistance was not born 10 months ago, but has actually lived for many years: communities of color in Charlottesville fighting for affordable housing, for a living wage, for an end to police brutality and state-sanctioned violence, for education for all.”’
- In 2015, students at the University of Missouri unsuccessfully petitioned for the removal of Jefferson’s statue on campus. The petition stated:
“Thomas Jefferson’s statue sends a clear nonverbal message that his values and beliefs are supported by the University of Missouri. No, I am not talking about the ideals within the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson’s statue perpetuates a sexist-racist atmosphere that continues to reside on campus.”
Critics of Removing Jefferson’s Statue —
- Jon Meachum, Pulitzer Prize winning historian and author of biographies on Presidents Jefferson, Jackson, and H.W. Bush, argued that the test of whether a monument should stand is the question, “Was the person to whom a monument is erected on public property devoted to the American experiment in liberty and self-government?” He argues that Washington and Jefferson should have statues because they pass this litmus test.
“Washington and Jefferson and Andrew Jackson were. Each owned slaves; each was largely a creature of his time and place on matters of race. Yet each also believed in the transcendent significance of the nation, and each was committed to the journey toward ‘a more perfect Union.’”
- Meachum goes on to argue that Confederate leaders fail this test because “those who took up arms against the Union were explicitly attempting to stop the American odyssey.”
- Tim Morris, a columnist for New Orleans-based Times-Picayune argued that statues of Jefferson should remain intact because he helped build “a country that established the ideal of liberty,” noting that statues should commemorate those ideals despite his flaws.
“The statues and monuments to Washington and Jefferson celebrate their contributions to building a country that established the ideal of liberty and equality, not their support of slavery… Our founders, like all men and women, are flawed human beings. Without ignoring their flaws, we can and should celebrate those who founded and fought for the ideals of liberty, equality, and the quest for ‘a more perfect union.’”
William Spruance contributed to this report.