On Monday, in Charlottesville, Virginia, Thomas Jefferson’s home town, the city council voted 4-1 to eliminate celebrating the birthday of the author of the Declaration of Independence and the founder of the University of Virginia.
The closest working day to Jefferson’s birthday (April 13) used to be an official city holiday for workers in the city government; it will now be replaced with a day called Liberation and Freedom Day on March 3. According to Roanoke.com, “… March 3, 1865, Union troops under Gen. Philip Sheridan arrived in the area under orders to destroy the Virginia Central railroad line, cutting off Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s supply line to the Shenandoah Valley. Sheridan occupied the city until March 6, and many slaves used the occupation to free themselves.”
Yahoo News reported that the city council “created a second bonus holiday as replacement for Jefferson Day, which had been observed by the city for at least 74 years.”
The idea of replacing Jefferson’s birthday with Liberation and Freedom Day was proposed by Mayor Nikuyah Walker in June; Councilor Wes Bellamy said he was “proud” of Walker, adding, “I think it’s a conversation that we definitely as a city need to have.” Bellamy also asserted that Jefferson “raped Sally Hemings,” one of Jefferson’s slaves. According to WHSV, Bellamy had previously stated, “Thomas Jefferson already has 365 holidays and I do think that is the case here in Charlottesville. You literally can’t go anywhere within our city without hearing or seeing a reminder of Thomas Jefferson.”
Councilmember Kathy Galvin was the only vote against jettisoning Jefferson’s birthday as a holiday; she had said earlier in June, “It also is important to think about what Thomas Jefferson has done. I find it somewhat ironic, at this point in time, that the founding father who gave us the ability to question our holiday schedule is now not going to be able to be acknowledged for the establishment of that act.”
Gayle Jessup White, community engagement officer at Jefferson’s home at Monticello and who is descended from Jefferson and Hemings, stated, “We respect the city’s process for resolving questions around its official holidays. At Monticello we hold Jefferson’s immense achievements and deep flaws in tension. We have those discussions with guests every day. We are committed to sharing an honest, complicated and inclusive view of our history – including the history of race and slavery at Monticello – and the commemoration of Jefferson’s birthday is an important time for these tensions to be engaged.”
Some other accomplishments of Thomas Jefferson besides writing the Declaration of Independence and founding the University of Virginia: in 1777, the year after he wrote the Declaration, he wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom which guaranteed freedom of religion to people of all religious faiths; as president he established the United States Military Academy (USMA) at West Point, New York, doubled the size of the United States with the Louisiana Purchase, and called for the criminalization of international slave trade on the first day it was possible. He also offered his own library after the Library of Congress was burned by the British in the War of 1812.