Update To Jefferson Memorial To Reflect Slave Ownership

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A planned update to the Jefferson Memorial will include an addition to reflect the fact that he owned slaves.

The Trust for the National Mall announced the proposal in the wake of violence at an Aug. 12 rally by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, that has triggered a discussion about historic monuments and statues across the U.S., the Washington Examiner reports.

Catherine Townsend, president of the Trust for the National Mall, explained the reason for the decision in a letter to supporters.

"In the coming weeks and months, the physical symbols of American history and democracy will be scrutinized and challenged," stated Townsend, according to the Examiner. "When that happens, we will work with our partners to ensure the National Mall continues to be a vibrant and relevant place where Americans can learn about our history and imagine our future, together."

Jefferson and George Washington owned slaves. When Washington died in 1799, he ordered in his will that his slaves be emancipated following the death of his wife, The Washington Post notes.

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"We can reflect the momentous contributions of someone like Thomas Jefferson, but also consider carefully the complexity of who he was," said an official from the Trust, according to the Washington Examiner. "And that's not reflected right now in the exhibits."

The Trust for the National Mall assists in raising private donations to maintain and update monuments and memorials at the sight.

"Recent events only reinforce the need for an open, inclusive and safe space for Americans to exercise their First Amendment rights and to gather in pursuit of our shared ideals -- life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all," added Townsend. "I hope you will join us as we steward private support to implement modern and resilient solutions that can transform this dynamic space and preserve the historic legacy of the National Mall. We want to hear from you, and we want to work with you."

Much of the debate thus far has focused on whether towns and cities should retain statues or monuments to the Confederacy. Trump spoke out in favor of keeping them.

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"This week it's Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down," Trump said Aug. 15, according to the Washington Post. "I wonder, is it George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?"

Historians disagreed with Trump's suggestion, saying it was incorrect to equate leaders of the Confederacy with Jefferson and Washington.

"They accomplished something very important," Jim Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, told the Post. "Washington and Jefferson were central to the creation of a nation … Lee and Stonewall were not being honored for those types of accomplishment. They were being honored for creating and defending the Confederacy, which existed for one reason, and that was to protect the right of people to own other people."

Sources: Washington Examiner, The Washington Post / Featured Image: Panoramio / Embedded Images: Shealah Craighead/The White House/Flickr (2)

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