Charlottesville Has a Favorite Son

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When I was employed in education we used to refer to people who had something to say about a lot of subjects, but knew little of substance as being a river a mile wide and an inch deep. Donald Trump’s river is an inch wide and an inch deep. Mr. Trump suggested in a press conference on August 15 that people should consider taking down statues and tributes to both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson because they were slave owners. Mr. Trump’s reference was a combative one against the desire to remove Confederate era statues and symbols still standing in the U.S. today.

Charlottesville, Virginia is a city steeped in history. Thomas Jefferson was born in Shadwell, a stone’s throw from downtown, and died at Monticello, just outside town. In 1819 he founded the University of Virginia in the city. Jefferson spent time working on creating a country in Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and served in France, but always knew he’d return to his home turf.

Jefferson was a difficult man to analyze. He was a walking contradiction. Whenever I need a quote, on either side of an issue, I first check to see what Jefferson said, because I’ll likely find something to fit any point.

Mr. Trump is right to suggest that Jefferson owned slaves. He owned them his entire life. When he died he freed several, but did not release them all, possibly because they were mortgaged and he could not do so. He continually had money problems. It is now confirmed knowledge that he fathered children with his slave, Sally Hemmings. While owning slaves, Jefferson called it a “moral depravity.” He wrote that slavery was a threat to the survival of the United States and should be abolished. He did feel that blacks were inferior to whites and with abolition; the former slaves would need to be deported to Haiti or back to Africa. He said slavery was contrary to the laws of nature, but vowed to keep his property until legislation emancipated them. One of those “only from the mouth of Thomas Jefferson” quotes is this: “Slavery is like holding a wolf by the ear. We can neither hold him nor let him go.”

But, we didn’t build monuments to Thomas Jefferson because he was a conflicted slave owner. We built monuments to him because he and a small handful of others created our nation. Another Jefferson quote has served as the foundation of our experiment in democratic, representative government. The U.S. was not founded on religion, or on an economic platform. Nor was it founded on any tangible objective. Our country is unique because it was founded on an idea, and that idea was Jefferson’s idea: “All men are created equal.” It is apparent that Jefferson merely planted the seed. Originally he meant white, male landowners were created equal, but the seed was such that it grew and we have, through the years, amended and expanded that meaning to be much more inclusive. During the Civil War the idea had grown to include black men, and then in the twentieth century we added women. Today we are proud to include LGBT citizens as well. Cherished will be the day when “all men are created equal” means simply all humans and our thoughts and actions match the original idea that brought us together as a nation.

There have been bumps and setbacks along the way to realizing this ideal. The Civil War was one. The Confederacy voted to leave the union and wage war against the remaining states to defend their right to own and abuse other people. They chose to initiate a war that would kill 620,000 Americans, 360,000 Union soldiers and 260,000 Confederates. Those who led the charge were among those who renounced the U.S. and fought to divide our nation. At war’s end, Gen. Robert E. Lee of the South thought there should be no monuments to the war. And, for quite a while there were none. It wasn’t until the 20th century that statues of Lee, other Rebels, plus a variety of memorials began to be built–many as late as the 1960s. They were not built to commemorate the history of the Confederacy. They were built to dredge up hatred and stick a thumb in the eye of those who were first given equality, but then saw it whisked away with Jim Crow laws starting in 1876. Those Confederate statues and Rebel battle flags that were/are flown over Southern government buildings were designed as a reminder to black Americans that they were still not equal in the eyes of the defeated Confederacy. Those monuments were built to once again divide us.

That, Mr. Trump, is the answer to your question about the line we draw on who gets a statue and who does not–the uniters get a statue and historical recognition, the dividers do not. It’s really a simple concept, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, even though they were imperfect individuals get a yes because they were the ones who originally united us as a nation. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson get a thumbs down due to being dividers.

Mr. Trump, your river needs to become a lot wider and a lot deeper before you deserve to hold the esteemed office in which you currently sit.

Comments

  1. Jackie Freeze says:

    Very well said. Sad time for our country as we continue to hope Mr. Trump’s knowledge level and ability to make a point without confrontation will increase. In the meantime, we must continue to point out the misinterpretations and misinformation.

  2. Wallace Wilson says:

    And this op-ed unites or divides?

  3. Russ Skillings says:

    This was spot on for three reasons. First, it pointed out Jefferson’s closeness to the area (birth, founding of university, death). Second, it brought to light the fact that Jefferson had his flaws, especially in the light of 21st century perspective. And third, it accurately identified the faulty logic employed by our president. Stating that Lee and Jackson are equal to Washington and Jefferson because the latter had character flaws is using a negative device to measure a positive attribute.

  4. B.J. Adams says:

    Twisting the President’s words to fit an agenda is nothing short of lies and misrepresentation. He did not say what the writer represents–the writer picks and chooses and distorts. But then to Trump haters truth means nothing. The writer should stop writing about rivers and write about the mud he is throwing. Who are the real dividers? The man and the newspaper need to look deeply into a mirror.

    • Robert Bishop says:

      I disagree that the writer twisted anything. Today, in Barcelona a man drove a car into a crowd of innocent people killing at least one and injuring 30 more. Everyone across the globe denounced it as an act of terrism. Yet, when a man drove his car into a crowd killing one and injuring 30 in Virginia, everyone denounced it as domestic terrorism, except for Trump who did not want to antagonize his base of southern voters. It was a cowardly move on Trumps part only for his political agenda. He would call Barcelona an act of terrorism but not the same act in Virginia. No, this author is not wrong, Trump is.

    • S. Taylor says:

      BJ Adam, you hit the nail directly on the head. I agree completely with what you said. Mr. Trump asked the clueless reporters the question where does it end? Do we take down Washington’s statues and Jeffferson’s sttaues, next?, He did not suggest that these statues be taken down, All the liberals want to do is defy anything and everything he says and twist it to fit their sick agenda, They are the ones dividing this country.

  5. Beth Fletcher says:

    The only one whos needs to look deeply into a mirror is Trump. How dare you stick up for someone who condones Nazis and white supremacy unless you are one. Do you not realize what is happening here? A president of our United States is sticking up for these idiots. How can you think this is right? Anyone who voted him into office is responsible for the murders of the three innocent people who were killed. I hope you can live with that on your conscience.

  6. Connie Foust says:

    I see the article as divisive. If this is so, then we must also remove statues of Lenin and Marx that are in three cities in the United States.

    We must also shame Antifa who showed up to the protest and involved themselves in the melee. Oh and lets go after anyone else who does not share our viewpoint or who voted for a liberal.

    All of this is divisive and all I have either read or listened to on various media outlets. I

    I say let us follow our own minds, love one another and respect our President. Mr. Obama was no deep river when it came to thought. His media pals gave him a pass on so many things like sparking the riots in Ferguson.

    Put it all aside and stay together as one America no matter what color, religion etc you are. But for sure don’t sit on your backside and believe the garbage the media is spewing at you.

    • Carol Redding says:

      It is truly had to make sense of your comment Connie. The president refuses to call out Nazis and skinheads for what they. Yet people like you put the blame on this author and the media. You make no sense at all,

  7. Teri Delgado says:

    I am proud and admire those presidents who stood up with their countrymen and called out domestic terrorism for what it is I. I am sickened and profoundly saddened that our president puts his ego over the heartbreak and loss of our citizens by refusing to admit domestic terrorism is thriving in this country.

  8. Connie Foust says:

    I believe he was elected because he is aware of domestic terrorism thriving in the country. What was, according to some, his big mistake is he also called out Antifa (the progressive left radicals). He spoke of both as evil. They both are evil and violent, yet the media wants to paint the alt-right as they only evil ones. Google Antifa and get an understanding of their history and violent ways. They have been around since WWII and came after Hilter. The problem was they are Marxists and violent. Trump was right to call out both, but the media relied on the ignorance of the general public to stoke a fire and many jumped on the bandwagon of racist rhetoric towards Republican’s. It’s sick and it is wrong to twist into a pretzel words that held all responsible. Please read up on Antifa, watch the videos of violence as in Berkeley recently. If it was up to them we would have no free speech. The KKK is known as despicable cretins — I believe we can all agree on that, but so is Antifa.

    • Terry Donnelly says:

      Yes, Ms. Foust, please read-up on Antifa. There is nothing completely wrong about what you say, but you’ve done a pretty good job of focusing on your own preferences. Antifa started in Europe ten years before WWII. They fought against Hitler’s Brownshirts, Mussoini’s Blackshirts, and Franco’s nationalist army. Yes, they were fighters, but I don’t see any difference here than what the Allies fought against. They didn’t show up in the U.S. until about 1990 as an anit-racist group. All along Antifa has been a series of loosely knit philosophical, autonomous groups. They don’t have one leader or dues, or meetings like the neo-Nazi, KKK, or other white supremacist groups they work against. To call them leftist or alt-left is misleading. They are often left leaning as most of us are who battle against racial injustice, but they are also anarchists, who are not left leaning. As stated they do often act as vigilantes and cause property damage. The accusation of violence can be documented, but only against the hate groups they oppose. They do not attack innocent persons as the white supremacists groups do. An Antifa group was responsible for the violence in Berkeley and are likely the base of the anarchists that disrupted and caused some property damage during the inaugural on Jan. 20. They are protective of minority groups and showed that in Charlottesville by protecting a group of church elders from the protestors’ wrath. The comparison is more like Robin Hood than bomb throwing Nazis. Despise the small number of violent facets, but don’t overlook the majority. Again, they are not peaceful, nor law abiding, but neither are they dangerous or a threat to common people.

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