Society

Charlottesville Protesters Single Out Thomas Jefferson

| by Robert Fowler
A statue of former President Thomas Jefferson at the University of Virginia in CharlottesvilleA statue of former President Thomas Jefferson at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville

One month after white nationalists held a violent rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, anti-racism protesters have covered a campus statue of former President Thomas Jefferson with a black shroud.

On Sept. 12, a group of University of Virginia students and Charlottesville residents surrounded and covered the statue of UVA founder Jefferson. Some people in the crowd of protesters carried signs affiliated with Black Lives Matter. The protesters argued that university officials should adorn Jefferson's statue with a plaque that noted his history as a slave owner.

"It was done as a solidarity action with Charlottesville after the events that transpired on August 11 and August 12," college student Anelle Mensah told The Cavalier Daily.

On Aug. 11, white nationalists gathered in Charlottesville to protest the removal of a Confederate monument. On Aug. 12, the white supremacists held a rally in the college town and eventually clashed with counter-protesters. The hostilities turned deadly when alt-right member James Alex Fields Jr. allegedly drove his vehicle into a crowd, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others, according to the Washington Post.

On Aug. 15, President Donald Trump generated controversy when he asserted during a press conference that some participants in the white nationalist rally were not racists but simply protesters of the removal of Confederate monuments.

"I wonder is it George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after?" Trump said, according to CNBC. "You know, you really do have to ask yourself where does it stop?"

On the one-month anniversary of the white nationalist rally, anti-racist protesters covered Jefferson's likeness with a black shroud, mirroring how UVA administrations had also shrouded Confederate monuments following Heyer's death. The protesters urged UVA officials to adhere to the demands previously made by the Black Student Alliance.

"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," an unidentified speaker told the crowd, according to The Daily Progress.

On Aug. 20, the college's Black Student Alliance called for the school to add a plaque to Jefferson's statue that would note the Founding Father's white supremacist beliefs and his ownership of slaves.

"We can and must condemn the violence of one month ago and simultaneously recognize Jefferson as a rapist, racist, and slave owner," the rally speaker said.

Historians have noted that Jefferson's views on slavery changed during his lifetime. The Founding Father had explicitly condemned slavery in his original draft of the Declaration of Independence but stopped advocating for abolition by the 1790s. He also asserted in his writings that black people were inherently inferior to whites and that they could not co-exist equally, according to Smithsonian.com.

Jefferson held slaves at his plantation, Monticello, and fathered children with an enslaved woman named Sally Hemings. Historians have not concluded whether or not Jefferson and Hemings’ relationship was consensual, but her status as a slave has prompted critics to assert that any of their sexual interactions would qualify as rape. Upon Jefferson's death, the families held in bondage on his estate were broken up and sold to different owners in the slave market.

Sources: CNBCThe Cavalier DailyThe Daily Progress, Smithsonian.com, Washington Post / Featured Image: Funky Tee/Flickr / Embedded Images: Tldagny/Flickr, Rob Shenk/Flickr

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