(July 10, 2019) In the wake of the Charlottesville riots two years ago President Trump questioned whether the drive to remove the town’s Robert E. Lee statue would escalate to include memorials elsewhere to other historical slaveholders such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Predictably, The New York Times rushed-out an article ridiculing his suggestion. Realizing that almost any academic historian would provide the requisite “expert” opinion, they contacted Harvard and Yale.
Yale professor John Witt disparagingly labeled Trump’s warning a “red herring.” When asked whether the President’s concern was valid, Harvard’s Annette Gordon-Reed said, “no. . . This [statue removal activity] is not about the personality of an individual and his or her flaws,” she said. “This is about men who organized a system of government to maintain a system of slavery and to destroy the American union.”
Nonetheless, four months ago Hofstra University students defaced a Jefferson statue and demanded its removal. Although the Hofstra matter is presently under review, students at the University of Missouri started a similar initiative. Even Jefferson’s hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia will no longer celebrate his birthday. Although city employees will still get a paid vacation day they will gain a new one next March to celebrate the liberation of the town’s slaves when Union troops occupied it on March 3, 1865. Two months ago Democratic Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg said that his Party should rename its Jefferson-Jackson fund raising dinner because they were slaveholders.
George Washington memorials have also been attacked. About eighteen months ago an Alexandria, Virginia Episcopal Church founded in 1773 removed a plaque recognizing Washington’s contributions and attendance. More recently, San Franciso announced that it will spend up to $600,000 to paint over a mural at George Washington high school portraying the first President’s lifetime contributions to our country. Most of the money will go to lawyers to win anticipated litigation. Meanwhile the 1,600 square foot painting will be covered. Since it’s a fresco, overpainting will destroy the ninety-year-old-artwork. Even though scenes in the 13-panels include implicit criticism of Washington regarding slavery and his conduct toward Indians, students still consider it offensive.
I have been unable to find any comments from Professors Witt or Gordon-Reed objecting to the memorial removals for Washington and Jefferson. Should readers find any, please let me know.
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