A sixth-generation descendant of President Thomas Jefferson advocated for the statue of the founding father in the Jefferson Memorial to be replaced with the likeness of Harriet Tubman.
Author and journalist Lucian K. Truscott IV condemned his ancestor in a Monday op-ed for The New York Times, writing that Jefferson’s memorial in Washington, D.C., should be “taken down and replaced” because it is “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.”
Describing his childhood playing at Monticello, Truscott characterized Jefferson’s famous estate in Charlottesville, Virginia, as a sufficient memorial to the third president because it offers exhibits on slavery and Sally Hemings, the slave with whom Jefferson reportedly fathered children. Truscott went on to denounce Jefferson for owning 600 slaves but freeing only those in the Hemings family upon his death.
“Monticello is an almost perfect memorial, because it reveals him with his moral failings in full, an imperfect man, a flawed founder,” Truscott wrote.
Truscott concluded that Jefferson “should not be honored with a bronze statue 19 feet tall, surrounded by a colonnade of white marble. The time to honor the slave-owning founders of our imperfect union is past.”
In Jefferson’s place, Truscott recommended a depiction of 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’s op-ed echoes the sentiments of Shannon LaNier, a ninth-generation descendant of Jefferson and Hemings, who recently told ABC News that despite once overlooking his faults because of his other accomplishments, he is rethinking Jefferson’s legacy. “You really do have to look at the whole person and what else he did,” LaNier said.
“Thomas Jefferson wrote that ‘All men are created equal.’ When he wrote those words, they did not include black people, they didn’t include women, they didn’t include people who didn’t own land,” LaNier added. He suggested leaving statue plinths empty as “a monument to what might be, what could be, what could be possible if we actually listen to the voices of the people.”
Modeled after the Pantheon in Rome, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial was built on Washington, D.C.’s Tidal Basin between 1939 and 1943 at the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The bronze statue of Jefferson beneath the dome is surrounded by some of his most memorable quotes, including one from “Notes on the State of Virginia” that reads in part, “Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism.”
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