Jefferson Memorial To Include Exhibit About Jefferson Owning Slaves

According to Catherine Townsend, president of the Trust for the National Mall, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington D.C. will feature an exhibit that will discuss the fact that Jefferson, an avowed foe of slavery, still owned slaves even after he wrote the Declaration of Independence.

The Trust is trying to head off at the pass protests from those who feel that the Jefferson Memorial has ignored the complexities attributed to Jefferson, whose passionate writing against slavery was reflected in his Report of a Plan of Government for the Western Territory in 1784, in which he favored prohibiting slavery in all new states carved out of the western territories ceded to the national government established under the Articles of Confederation; it would have outlawed slavery in all territories by 1800. It was defeated by one vote in Congress because a New Jersey representative was absent.

But Jefferson’s anti-slavery views were muted after that; his anti-slavery perspective was not entirely reflected in his personal life.

Catherine Townsend, president of the Trust for the National Mall, wrote supporters:

In the coming weeks and months, the physical symbols of American history and democracy will be scrutinized and challenged. 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.

The Trust has been in the midst of raising funds to refurbish the National Park Service exhibit accompanying the memorial; one official told the Washington Examiner:

We can reflect the momentous contributions of someone like Thomas Jefferson, but also consider carefully the complexity of who he was. And that's not reflected right now in the exhibits. The Park Service manages the site, and we'll always be clear on that — but if we are a partner in help bringing private funding to make sure that they're able to update that exhibit, that's where we want to be thoughtful vis a vis what has happened, or, sort of, come to an inflection point in the last week. That is where we'll be their partner in bringing together thought leaders and scholars to make sure that that content is really appropriate and thorough for what should be at that particular site.

The official added that some of the details of Jefferson’s life will be featured at Monticello, Jefferson’s Virginia home: "There are some things that are better represented and better explained at Monticello. The Jefferson Memorial does not necessarily need to be an all-inclusive site and encapsulate all of that detail."

Townsend concluded:

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. 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.

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