Jefferson descendant: ‘Take down his memorial’

A descendant of Thomas Jefferson is calling for the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., to be removed.

In an op-ed published by The New York Times, Lucian K. Truscott IV, a journalist and a descendant of the third U.S. president, described playing with his brother and family as a child at Monticello, Jefferson’s Virginia home. Many of his family members are buried on the grounds of Monticello. 

Truscott wrote that “as a memorial to Jefferson himself, [Monticello is] almost perfect. And that is why his memorial in Washington should be taken down and replaced. Described by the National Park Service as ‘a shrine to freedom,’ it is anything but.”

“The memorial is a shrine to a man who during his lifetime owned more than 600 slaves and had at least six children with one of them, Sally Hemings. It’s a shrine to a man who famously wrote that ‘all men are created equal’ in the Declaration of Independence that founded this nation — and yet never did much to make those words come true,” he wrote.

“Upon his death, he did not free the people he enslaved, other than those in the Hemings family, some of whom were his own children. He sold everyone else to pay off his debts,” he added.

Truscott also wrote that visitors will not learn the history of Jefferson’s ownership of enslaved people at the memorial in Washington. However, he noted that Monticello features “an exhibit of Sally Hemings’s bedroom in her cavelike living quarters,” among other information about the people enslaved there.

“A tour of Monticello these days will tell you that it was designed by Jefferson and built by the people he enslaved; it will point out joinery and furniture built by Sally’s brother, John Hemings. Today, there are displays of rebuilt cabins and barns where those enslaved lived and worked,” he wrote. 

“At Monticello, you will learn the history of Jefferson, the man who was president and wrote the Declaration of Independence, and you will learn the history of Jefferson, the slave owner. Monticello is an almost perfect memorial, because it reveals him with his moral failings in full, an imperfect man, a flawed founder,” he continued.

Truscott added that Jefferson should not “be honored with a bronze statue 19 feet tall, surrounded by a colonnade of white marble.” Instead, he called for a memorial to honor Harriet Tubman. 

“To see a 19-foot-tall bronze statue of a Black woman, who was a slave and also a patriot, in place of a white man who enslaved hundreds of men and women is not erasing history. It’s telling the real history of America,” Truscott said.

Protests sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody earlier this year have included calls for the removal of statues and memorials to a slate of historical figures, including Confederate leaders, explorer Christopher Columbus and more. Some have called for the removal of statues of Founding Fathers who owned enslaved people, such as Jefferson and former President George Washington.

President Trump announced an executive order last week that establishes the Task Force for Building and Rebuilding Monuments to American Heroes. The task force will be empowered to use funding from the Interior Department to create a “National Garden of American Heroes,” which will feature a statue of Jefferson, among other American leaders and historical figures. 

Tags Donald Trump Jefferson Memorial Monticelo Thomas Jefferson Thomas Jefferson and slavery Washington DC
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