I’m a Direct Descendant of Thomas Jefferson. Take Down His Memorial.Breaking News
tags: slavery, racism, Thomas Jefferson, memorials
I guess that’s why my brother and I, the great-grandsons, took the Jefferson Memorial for granted. We had his ancestral home as a playground. It was where all of our great-grandparents and great-aunts and great-uncles were buried, and where one day, we were told, we would be buried, too. We didn’t need the Jefferson Memorial. Monticello was enough.
It’s still enough. In fact, as a memorial to Jefferson himself, it’s almost perfect. And that is why his memorial in Washington should be taken down and replaced. Described by the National Park Service as “a shrine to freedom,” it is anything but.
The memorial is a shrine to a man who during his lifetime owned more than 600 slaves and had at least six children with one of them, Sally Hemings. It’s a shrine to a man who famously wrote that “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence that founded this nation — and yet never did much to make those words come true. Upon his death, he did not free the people he enslaved, other than those in the Hemings family, some of whom were his own children. He sold everyone else to pay off his debts.
In fact, some of his white descendants, including his grandson Thomas Jefferson Randolph, my great-great-great-great grandfather, fought in the Civil War in defense of slavery. My great-grandmother lived with him at Edgehill after she was born there in 1866. That is how close we are not only to Jefferson but also to slavery. When we visited her as children, there was only one dead man between my brother and me and Thomas Jefferson.
I am the sixth-generation great-grandson of a slave owner. My cousins from the Sally Hemings family are also the great-grandchildren of a slave owner. But the difference is that our great-grandfather owned their great-grandmother. My family owned their family. That is the American history you will not learn when you visit the Jefferson Memorial. But you will learn it when you visit Monticello: There’s now an exhibit of Sally Hemings’s bedroom in her cavelike living quarters in the south wing, a room my brother and I used to play in when we were boys.
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