Some students at the University of Missouri want a statue of Thomas Jefferson removed from their campus, referring to the founding father and author of the Declaration of Independence as a “racist rapist.”
The statue itself has been covered in sticky notes with everything from “racism” to “oppression” written on them. Last week, students and faculty gathered around the statue, which is located along the Francis Quadrangle on campus, both in support and opposition to the third president.
In addition to covering the statue in Post-It Notes, students began to further circulate a months old Change.org petition calling for its removal. As of now, the petition has acquired 72 of its 100 signature goal, and was created by Mizzou student Maxwell Little.
Little told The Missourian that he finds it necessary to show “the other side of Thomas Jefferson.” Another student behind the effort commented, “Every day that is [sic] sits on campus, students are affected.”
“It’s a symbol of violence to many students,” the student continued. “We talk about wanting to fix the culture of sexual violence and racism on campus, but that sits here. What really are the values of the University of Missouri?”
According to the petition’s page, the primary reason for the statute’s removal comes from the fact that Jefferson owned slaves, didn’t put words into action regarding racial equality, and that he “raped” one of his slaves by the name of Sally Hemings:
“Jefferson, one of the Founding Fathers who preached ‘I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man’ (Wilbur, 1962, p. 7) and that all men created equal, but possessed slaves up until his death July 4, 1862. This was a man that urged freedom for all and TALKED about the abolition of slavery, but never practiced democracy a day in his life. Even after his death the slaves he owned were restricted of their God given liberty. For example, Israel Jefferson, one of 37 house slaves for the former president was sold shortly after his death along with 150 other slaves via auction block (Burstein, 2005).
“This was a man that believed that both black and white individuals, equally free, could not live under the same government (Gardner, 1974). This was a man who created a provision (but was unsuccessful) that would emancipate black slaves in exchange for free white laborers, for which he knew would not work as he stated ‘for in a warm climate, no man will labour for himself who can make another labour for him’ (Gardner, 1974, p. 78).
“This was a man that raped 16 year old Sally Hemings, a young innocent house slave.”
According to Monticello’s website, it is believed that Jefferson did, in fact, father six children with Hemings following his wife’s death.
The petition also states: “The need to project a progressive environment is just as important as food and shelter to survive. A welcoming environment does not stop at the feet of individuals in particular spaces. A welcoming environment is also determined by its physical environment e.g., the use of artifacts in designated spaces.”
Removing the statue alone, the petition says, “will not eliminate the racial problems we face in America today, but it will help cure the emotional and psychological strain of history.”
The students behind this effort claim to have drawn inspiration from the recent removal of a Jefferson Davis statue at the University of Texas.