A Thomas Jefferson exhibit will acknowledge that the celebrated president was a Southerner who owned slaves. The Washington Examiner reports that the display right beside the national memorial to Jefferson will discuss “the complexity” of a man who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, an eloquent defender of liberty, and a slaveholder.
The clarification is apparenly a preemptive strike against anticipated protests against the exhibit from the same demonstrators who are demanding that Confederate monument be removed.
The Trust for the National Mall, where the exhibit will be seen, says it is preparing for opposition to the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial, although both of these famous sites enjoy “much broader support” than the Confederate symbols, according to Trust president Catherine Townsend.
“In the coming weeks and months, the physical symbols of American history and democracy will be scrutinized and challenged,” Townsend told supporters in a letter on Thursday.
“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.”
Relevancy translates into a proactive policy of airing the dirty laundry before the protesters can make a show of it.
“We can reflect the momentous contributions of someone like Thomas Jefferson, but also consider carefully the complexity of who he was,” a spokesman for theTrust told the Washington Examiner. “And that’s not reflected right now in the exhibits.”
Even as a slaveholder, Jefferson’s record on slavery was complex. He participated in the “peculiar institution” but called it an “evil” one. He compared slavery to restraining a wolf, because “you didn’t much like it, but you couldn’t let go either.” DNA evidence now suggests that he fathered children with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings.
“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,” Townsend wrote. “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.”