UVa Leadership Justifies Contextualizing Jefferson Statue

The University of Virginia administration and Board of Visitors is caught in the crossfire as alumni push back against the radicalization of the university and denigration of its founder Thomas Jefferson. In the previous post, I published a letter written by Thomas M. Neale and co-signed by 200 others condemning the Board of Visitors resolution to “contextualize” the Jefferson state on the UVa grounds.

Rector James B. Murray Jr., and President James E. Ryan wrote the following letter in response, which I offer with minor edits. — JAB

The actions recommended by the administration and taken by the Board have been years in the making. In response to growing interest from our students, faculty, and community, the University has for some time now been addressing more fully its history and the life of Thomas Jefferson. Our work has been similar to the efforts of Monticello, more fully portraying Mr. Jefferson’s life to provide a complete picture of his (many) accomplishments, as well as his shortcomings, and to make these facts available to a larger audience.

Erecting the beautiful and moving Memorial to Enslaved Laborers that sits in the
landscape southeast of Brooks Hall is a visible testament to those efforts. This memorial has become a popular destination for community members as well as tourists. It has received national and international acclaim for its design as well as its honest depiction of the lives of the slaves who lived and worked at the University. We have taken many other less publicized initiatives to explain the history of this University and the people who contributed to its creation and operation – people who have not often been recognized in earlier histories.

The statue on the north side of the Rotunda has, particularly in the last few years, become a touchstone for concerns about the University’s complex history with regard to race. This new recognition is due in part to this being the site where, on August 11, 2017, our students and some faculty and staff were surrounded by torch-bearing white supremacists yelling epithets and threatening harm. As you may recall, several people were injured, and others traumatized; and then too the University was criticized by alumni and
others for not doing enough to prevent the incident. Whether or not we all consider it reasonable, some members of our community have since called for the removal of the statue. This idea gained greater urgency in light of the outrage and protests that began in July. The Board and administration oppose the idea of removal; instead we seek a more informed approach.

We expect that whatever is done to contextualize the statue (perhaps a plaque) will merely provide additional historical facts by which we all can better understand Mr. Jefferson. We expect it to make no judgments about how the public will remember and value his numerous and formidable accomplishments. The additional historical facts are not in doubt or dispute. They will be no more than historical truths. Adding to the statue’s memorialization of Thomas Jefferson will further serve our purposes as a University – to educate and to enrich history. Indeed, that was Mr. Jefferson’s admonition to us:
“[Universities are] based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.” We should always defer to each individual’s interpretation, allowing each to make his or her judgment as to Thomas Jefferson’s place in this country’s history.

We think the words of the Board resolution convey this message. We have attached the resolution to this letter. In the memo from University leadership to the Board of Visitors asking the Board to support a number of actions, including the resolution on the statue, historian Annette Gordon-Reed is quoted from an interview she gave; we believe her thoughts appropriately balance the inconsistencies of Jefferson’s life:

There is an important difference between helping to create the United States and
trying to destroy it. Both Washington and Jefferson were critical to the formation of the country and to the shaping of it in its early years. They are both excellent candidates for the kind of contextualization you alluded to. The Confederate statues were put up when they were put up [not immediately after the war but largely during periods of civil rights tension in the 20th century], to send a message about white supremacy, and to sentimentalize people who had actively fought to preserve the system of slavery. No one puts a monument up to Washington or Jefferson to promote slavery. The monuments go up because, without Washington, there likely would not have been an American nation. They put up monuments to T.J. because of the Declaration of Independence, which every group has used to make their place in American society. Or they go up because of T. J.’s views on separation of church and state and other values that we hold dear. I think on these two, Washington and Jefferson, in particular, you take the bitter with the sweet. The main duty is not to hide the bitter parts.

This is a moment when we believe the University of Virginia can fulfill its
responsibilities to educate others about history. But we also recognize that we are evolving as a culture and as a university. We should, and must, address the current and future needs of our community and nation. We must try to contribute, as we can, to a more open and just society.

As an institution we are proud of our association with Thomas Jefferson. His
contributions to the creation of modern-day democracy and to the principles of religious freedom know few equals in world history. We believe that contextualizing the statue is an appropriate action. To be clear, removing any statue of our Founder or disassociating ourselves from his remarkable legacy would be anathemas to the Board of Visitors or the University administration.

James B. Murray Jr.

James E. Ryan

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33 responses to “UVa Leadership Justifies Contextualizing Jefferson Statue

  1. The University of Virginia President James Ryan, and the entire Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia HAVE NO CLOTHES.

    Best I can discern, the UVA President and Board blame most everyone in the Commonwealth of Virginia (past and present), and most everyone in America south of the Mason – Dixon Line (past and present) for the four vulgar signs nailed to doors on The Lawn at UVA by 4th year student leaders now living on the Lawn.

    The only folks exempt from blame for those signs and current uproars and nervous breakdowns of students at UVA over slavery in America, and UVA’s alleged systemic racist ever since, are apparently the UVA president, Board of Visitors, administrators, and faculty. Hence, “This is a moment when we believe the University of Virginia can fulfill its responsibilities to educate others about history,” according to UVA President and Board.

    Meanwhile, the UVA President and Board have turned over the judgement on whether the four vulgar signs desecrating Mr. Jefferson and his Academic Village, a “World Heritage Site, may be removed from Lawn, to The Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. This AG, according the UVA President and Board, apparently ” has ruled” that the removal of these vulgar signs from the Lawn would violate four students rights of free speech and expression under US Constitution.

    So much for today’s leadership and profiles of courage at Mr. Jefferson’s University of Virginia.

    • What I love about this is it assumes ignorance on the part of the students, parents, faculty and others who might be looking at the statue. Gee, they probably don’t know the 18th Century Virginia economy, especially the agrarian economy, was dependent on slave labor. We must be sure to tell them.

      As to the other signs on campus showing disdain for the school, interesting that they are posted by actual students, and treated as icons by the admin, but it expresses sentiments I’ve heard among my Hokie relatives my entire life. My son, when in middle school, make the mistake of wearing his orange and blue jacket to a game at Lane Stadium, and he heard it all four quarters.

      • “…the 18th Century Virginia economy, especially the agrarian economy, was dependent on slave labor. ”

        Oh, well then, that certainly justifies it all. As for Hokies, meh, Virginia’s meager attempt at vocational training.

        • Justified or not, it is not exactly news. Amusing they assume people do not know. People actually do. What they propose is to assuage their own sense of guilt — we honor TJ but feel guilty about it. Forgive us.

          • Orange and blue? I must admit that I am aware of the rivalry between Virginia’s 2nd tier schools, but which is which?

            The weak have to accept the versions of events adopted by the strong until they are weak no more. Until Antony dredged up enough good to sway the crowd, it was the evil that prevailed, no? The converse is always possible, even if it costs a dead poet or two.

      • Oh don’t be so fast. Not long ago our supposedly educated governor said that he never knew his Eastern Shore family owned slaves. The revelation of their slave owning past only came about in 2017. He knew they owned a plantation on Virginia’s Eastern Shore in the 18th and 19th centuries but never realized the plantation used slave labor. It’s quite possible that Northam, a dyed in the wool member of the plantation elite, was simply following conventional plantation elite tactics – lying through his teeth. Alternately, he may have been so poorly educated that he somehow thought rural plantations in early 1800s Virginia were operated by happy paid laborers.

        As a part time resident of the Eastern Shore (in Maryland) I can say for a fact that everybody who lives here knew in 2017 (and way prior) that the plantations in this part of America were built on slave labor.

        I’ll be charitable to Northam and assume he is simply ignorant rather than a pathological liar. Given that, I see “contextualizing” Thomas Jefferson and other slaveholders as a very good idea.

        Finally, how long did it take for the plantation elite to admit what Americans knew in the early 1800s – that Jefferson had multiple children with slave Sally Hemmings? The matter was publicly reported from 1796 through the early 1800s. Yet the plantation elitists who gather for Jefferson family reunions at Monticello refused to allow descendants of the Jefferson – Hemmings union to attend until they used DNA testing to prove their lineage. In 2003.

        Virginia still has an oversized cabal of plantation elitists who will openly deny the realities of history. Sometimes, one of these elite (like Ralph Northam) ascend to positions of power. It seems entirely right and correct to me to used various methods to contextualize the realities of history, especially for these members of the plantation elite. Sometimes the only way to train a poorly behaved and dim witted puppy is to grab it by the scruff of the neck and push its nose into its own droppings on the carpet.

        • Jefferson lives Mr. DJ. Look at all of us. We are still talking about Mr. Jefferson. He has been dead for 174 years. Thomas Jefferson will never die. His legacy will survive contextualization, tear downs, and reinterpretations. Jefferson’s true legacy cannot be deciphered. Historians have been trying for decades. Jefferson is a true riddle that leaves the individual much to draw from. The real question is will UVA survive? Modern upheavals threaten the very foundation of this institution. UVA may find itself as it was in the 1820s and 1830s. A school in name only.

          • I agree about Jefferson. But the truth about him is better than the cardboard hero history.

            Many are agog over Trump’s behavior but if most of us really knew the full context of Jefferson – we might be more pragmatic.

            But UVA will also survive. What UVA is doing is trying to make UVA more appealing to young people who are much more atune to and accepting of people of colors angst about it’s perceived white culture.

            I don’t think UVA is wrong on that. The major push-back is coming from older folks.

            We’re seeing a changing of the guard and not suprising, the older and more traditional folks tend to not happy about it.

            As DJ said upthread – if we had agreed to place context some time ago, certainly before the high profile deaths of black people, , would that had made UVA more inviting to people of color and thus fellow students who are white?

            When these deaths occurred – one after another – more and more people said “enough” and were determined to push aside people who said “wait and don’t destroy history”.

            In the minds of those who are frustrated with the pace of change, it became obious to them that the “preserve history” folks were really about preserving white culture.

            I think it’s gone overboard – far further than I initially thought but OTOH, this has gone on for decades with little real change including no real advocacy for adding context.

            It came across as “hell no, we’re not doing anything including not doing context, eff U ”

            that was the proverbial straw on the camel back and the floodgates opened and now the extremists are empowered and emboldened.

            I thought the UVA statement was middle ground myself.

            I think DJ did too. I’d not be surprised if a lot of Alumni also are of that view.

            That won’t change the folks who oppose – nor the ones that are vocal about it – but in the end – what should Ryan have done instead – to make UVA more inviting to people of color?

            Yeah, I know… the opponents don’t think much of that idea either…

            So maybe a parting question – Given the current tumult – what would Jefferson himself have done? Would he have come clean on Hemmings? Would he have disavowed slavery and Jim Crow and the United Daughters of the Confederacy?

            I quote Jefferson:

            “We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as a civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”

          • The American Sphinx – https://www.amazon.com/American-Sphinx-Character-Thomas-Jefferson/dp/0679764410

            Jefferson wrote the epitaph to his own headstone …

            “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson Author of the Declaration of American Independence of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom and Father of the University of Virginia”

            One of the greatest geniuses in history thought founding UVA more important than the Louisiana Purchase.

            Even he couldn’t get them all right.

            UVA will be ashes on the foothills of history long before the legend of Thomas Jefferson dies out.

          • “One of the greatest geniuses in history thought founding UVA more important than the Louisiana Purchase.”

            …or being president of the United States.

    • September 28, 2020

      Mr. James E. Ryan
      Office of the President
      University of Virginia
      Post Office Box 400224
      Charlottesville, VA 22904-4224

      Re: The “FUCK UVA” Lawn Doors

      Dear President Ryan,

      “Where would you be without Thomas Jefferson?”

      You wouldn’t be the President of The University of Virginia because it would not exist. The Presidency of The University is a great honor and carries with it great responsibilities including protecting a very important piece of public property.

      My name is Aubrey M Daniel III.

      This is not the first time I have written a letter to a President. Almost fifty years ago, I wrote a letter to then President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon. Like today, it was a turbulent time in our country. The country was divided over the War in Vietnam.

      At that time, I was 29 years old, a graduate of The University and T. C. Williams School of Law, and a JAGC Captain. I was the chief prosecutor in the court-martial of Lt. William L. Calley, Jr. for his role in the My Lai Massacre, the slaughter of old men, women, children, and babies. Those victims were “the enemy” in the eyes of some and
      “inhuman gooks” in the eyes of others. Though they were not white, the color of their skin made no difference to me under the law. I strongly believe ALL lives matter. The verdict caused the greatest national reaction of any case ever tried. It had been an enormous responsibility for me to reveal to the world the truth about what happened in My Lai. It was a painful experience both for me and for the country.

      My letter to President Nixon dealt with issues that were important to our republic: respect for the laws; the enforcement of those laws to see that justice was done; the protection of the constitutional rights of individuals; and the responsibility of the chief executive to support the rule of law without political bias.

      I never expected the letter to be published and praised by the New York Times and by almost every other major newspaper in the country. The country’s verdict on the verdict was one that I had not anticipated. It was difficult for me to have written that letter then, as it is difficult for me to write this letter today.

      I wrote it because I was shocked and dismayed by what I was seeing and hearing in the country. Fifty years later, I am equally shocked and appalled at what I observe happening at The University, namely, the doors on The Lawn being defaced with profanity and defamatory language.

      I live in Italy, far away from the cauldron of the public debate and chaos that is occurring in the United States. This distance has afforded me the time for reflection and analysis without the added pressure of being there. In writing this, I am proud to be an advocate for those who have been affected and offended by what has occurred. Why should I do this? Why should I say anything? I’m compelled by my conscience, my sense of right and wrong, my love for the Constitution, and my love for The University.

      My love for The University began when I was a young boy growing up in Orange. It has always been a great honor to say that I graduated from President Jefferson’s University.

      I found your statement Addressing Free Speech in The University totally inadequate to justify the decision you have made to do nothing about the defacement of the door on The Lawn. I wish I could have been there when you met with the student who defaced the door by writing “Fuck UVA.” We agree that profanity on the sign is offensive, but I wonder if when you met her she showed any remorse for having written it? Did you tell her, at a minimum, she used very poor judgement? I hope you told her that the language she used was entirely inappropriate and violated the code of conduct set forth in the Student’s Rights and Responsibilities.

      I am not sure you fully appreciate the intensity of the feelings that many of us alumni share. The Lawn is a place of honor to which she brought dishonor. The University historically has been a place of honor which she has dishonored.

      You seem to take comfort from the fact your legal counsel stated there is no doubt that the speech on the sign is protected by the First Amendment. You likely were relieved to have this advice so that you could avoid having to take any action. It is rare to see any legal opinion that asserts “no doubt.” Predicting legal outcomes with such certainty can be risky and they often prove to be wrong.

      I wonder whether your counsel and you, as a distinguished lawyer, fully analyzed the content of the sign. Freedom of speech is not without limitations. Freedom of speech is not a defense for the commission of a crime, i.e. Va Code section 18.2-138 “…damaging or defacing public buildings or property”, nor is it a defense for defamation by associating certain individuals with the KKK.

      It seems you overlooked one of your fundamental duties to protect the public image of The University and the architectural genius of Thomas Jefferson’s creation. After all, The University of Virginia is a recognized UNESCO Heritage Site.

      This high honor of international recognition gives it the same status that has been accorded to the Pyramids of Egypt, the Taj Mahal in India, the Acropolis in Greece and the Colosseum in Italy. There are only 1007 such sites in the entire world and only 21 in the United States. The University of Virginia is the only university in the entire country to receive such an honor.

      UNESCO has written that Jefferson’s “Monticello and Academical Village precinct are notable for the originality of their plans and designs and for the refinement of their proportions and décor.” Jefferson’s attention to detail and symmetry is evident. The doors are an important architectural element of the total design. They were not designed to be ugly billboards. It is a ridiculous proposition to suggest that the First
      Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits The University from maintaining and protecting the architectural beauty and harmony of the buildings on the Lawn.

      Wholly apart from the words that are ugly and offensive, the entire appearance of these doors has been defaced. Would The University allow students to change the color of the doors to fit their taste?

      According to The University’s regulations, “Lawn residents should respect their living space as a place of historic value and as the public face of The University.” It is a privilege to live in a room on The Lawn, and that privilege is conditioned on the students’ agreement to comply with the rules governing its use. That agreement has been breached by their conduct.

      The University is so unique and famous that people pay for a tour. You should be embarrassed that a recent review was posted on a public forum stating, “The famous lawn lined with student housing, is a pretty walk (though UVA mistakenly allows students living there to plaster their doors with unsightly junk).” How could that be permitted to happen?

      In addition to the fundamental duty to protect the aesthetics of The Lawn, it is also the fundamental duty to enforce The University’s standard for discourse. I have read and studied “The University of Virginia Student Rights and Responsibilities”. These have been translated into Chinese, Spanish and Korean reflecting the diversity of the student body. These standards state:

      “Students can freely examine and exchange diverse ideas in an orderly manner inside and outside the classroom.”

      When students have grievances, they have “…access to established procedures for respectfully presenting and addressing their concerns /
      complaints to The University.”

      “Students have the right to expect prompt and courteous responses from The University.”

      As for Student responsibilities, “The exercise and preservation of these freedoms and rights require a respect for the rights of all in the community.”

      “Students enrolling in the University assume an obligation to conduct themselves in a manner that is civil and compatible with the University’s function as an educational institution.”

      These standards make it clear that the free exchange of ideas must be civil, respectful,
      courteous, and orderly. These are not “high ideals” too difficult to achieve. They merely reflect common courtesy without profane name calling, obscenities, and defamatory accusations. Were not the messages posted on the Student’s doors in violation of these fundamental requirements?

      What is the response to “Fuck UVA”? Is it “Don’t Fuck UVA.”? This is hardly the type of debate for intellectual discourse at a major university whose role is to educate and foster personal development and character. Isn’t the imperfect pursuit of high ideals made more difficult if the standards of conduct used to get there are not enforced?

      Now I want to turn to the two legal limitations on free speech, defamation and the commission of a crime. Below the FUCK UVA headline, in bold letters, is written:
      – KKKOPs
      – GENOCIDE

      The Restatement (Second) torts sec. 559 lists “membership in the Ku Klux Klan” as the
      quintessential illustration of a defamatory statement. When you met with the student, did
      you confront her with the fact that her statement was defamatory? What proof did she give you to support her claim that the police are members of the Ku Klux Klan? If she presented you with none, both hers and your decision not to have taken immediate action were reckless. The UVA Police and local police are entitled to protection against
      defamation. At a minimum, the sign should have been taken down immediately since defamation is not protected by the First Amendment.

      I was provided with an account of an incident by Alumnus Bert Ellis who observed the sign then talked to the student and you. He reports that you said, “You were working on it.” He returned to find the sign still up and being protected by two “University Ambassadors”. Did you not consider this to be an insult to the feelings of the alumni and to the police by choosing to protect the sign over those who have been loyal to and protect The University?

      And then, there was the television interview. Was this before or after you met with her? She explained that one of her motivations was to encourage the community to defund the police. Does the University support defunding the police? Is not that, a radical concept? The First Amendment is not a defense to committing the crime of VA Code section 18.2-138 “…damaging or (emphasis added) defacing public buildings or property”. Defacing the doors on the Lawn violates this criminal statue. Would not enforcing that law deter further violations? With every new sign there is a new criminal violation.

      Have you forgotten that UVA property is the property of the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia? Is it permissible to have the public’s property defaced in this manner?

      Many believe as I do that any student who has that level of disrespect for The University is not worthy of its degree. Should any university that wants to be “great and good” tolerate this kind of behavior from its students?

      The University, is indeed, “remarkable”. That is because Thomas Jefferson created a world renowned architectural environment for the education of its students. You said that we should acknowledge with “humility and gratitude the efforts of past administrations, faculty, students and devoted alumni.” You should have included Thomas Jefferson in that list. What has happened here is more than a “slight stumble” along the way. It has made the journey much, much, more difficult by allowing students to drive us further apart with profane, abusive, disrespectful, and defamatory public statements.

      How can any leader of an institution who has any self-respect and respect for the institution he leads tolerate this type of conduct? You should be embarrassed and ashamed by your lack of action and question whether you deserve the position of
      President. If you stand on the legal advice you were given, that advice failed to account for both the facts and the law. It certainly does not appear to be free from political influence. The public has a right to know whether or not there has been political
      pressure from any source to take no action. All documents, communications of any nature should be preserved so that they may be obtained under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. Public hearings should be held on this issue to determine whether legislation is required. They should be held on both state and federal level. It is clear
      that The University and Monticello need more protection as a UNESCO Heritage Site than they have received.

      Therefore, I will be asking for federal legislation to protect this site, making defacing or damaging it a federal felony punishable by a minimum of one year in prison to a maximum of five years.

      Your tenure as President of The University is finite, but Thomas Jefferson’s legacy is lasting. I am thankful his legacy has enriched my life.

      God Bless America, The Land I love.

      Aubrey M. Daniel III
      Class of 1963

      Cc: Board of Visitors, Provost Magill, Rector Murray, Dean of Students Groves, VP of
      Advancement Luellen, University Counsel Heaphy, University Chief of Police Longo

  2. If I thought the Board and President Ryan wanted to run a university “based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it” I would back them to the hilt.

    The widespread intolerance of their faculty towards reasoned academic dissent from their students puts the lie to that claim. If they cared, they would stop it, starting with the Education School, the humanities departments and the social sciences.

    They could start by asking the Ed school to explain and contextualize the pedagogy of Success Academy in comparison to what it teaches to undergrads.

    They could go further by assembling their emeritus professors to critique the current departments.

    They are willfully blind to the rigid ideological indoctrination that passes for education there now. I have no quarrel with the slave memorial, but they mistake virtue signaling for doing their jobs. Shame on them.

    • Your comment is absolutely spot on; and thus it is absolutely first rate. Context is absolutely necessary in classrooms and books where learning is done. Otherwise one is teaching lies and half truths.

    • Oh, I agree. On the narrow matter of contextualizing the history of all memorialized people on campus (or, “the grounds” if we must be so hoity-toity) … that is a good idea. However, I doubt “contextualizing” the arguments against abortion (for example) will get much airtime at UVA. I hope I’m wrong but I suspect that “contextualization” will be a one way street rather than a step on the path to illimitable freedom of the human mind.

      But I believe in present historical truth any time history is presented so I have to applaud the use of contextualizing plaques rather than the tearing down of statues.

  3. “We should always defer to each individual’s interpretation, allowing each to make his or her judgment as to Thomas Jefferson’s place in this country’s history.”

    This is an excellent argument for NOT “contextualizing” the statue.

    • Sally Hemmings accompanied Jefferson and his daughter to Paris when she (Hemmings) was 14 years old. By 16 she was pregnant with Jefferson’s child. I’d say all that needs some contextualization before canonizing St Thomas. Or … I guess we could ask Joe Morrissey for comment.

      • I thought you were a UVA alumus? Perhaps you’ve already weighed in but can you remind your viewpoint?

        • I am a UVA alumnus. Jefferson was a brilliant polymath with a number of personal flaws. For unknown reasons he has been canonized by Virginia’s plantation elite when it seems very clear to me that Virginian George Washington was far more the indispensable man. During sessions of the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond our representatives will always be heard referring to “Mr Jefferson” in hushed, respectful voices on the many occasions they make up some excuse to utter his name.

          Jefferson was a flawed hero, like all heroes I guess. His accomplishments were many while his flaws were few but very significant.

          In much the same way that Robert E Lee didn’t want people to build statues of him I suspect that Jefferson would have wanted an accurate retelling of his history rather than absolute glorification of his life.

          Keep the statues, add the context.

          • ” In short, these decisions are made, and judgments decreed, based upon revisionist historical analyses rather than the ethical norms and moral tenets that were prevalent during these men and women’s lifetimes.”

            Was Jefferson’s relationship with Hemmings consisten with the ” ethical norms and moral tenets” of that time?

            Was that “history” recorded and formalized or was it hidden and, at least, initially, decried as false and revisionist by more than a few?

            I think that at least some of the folks who are decrying what they call, revisionist history are not entirely supportive of complete history and context.

            You know, this goes back to the A People’s History of the United States which some oppose because it actually does provide the good, bad and ugly – a context. They don’t really
            want the bad and ugly. They just want heroes.

          • “You know, this goes back to the A People’s History of the United States which some oppose because it actually does provide the good, bad and ugly – a context. They don’t really want the bad and ugly. They just want heroes.”

            Why would you write that? You know very well that “A People’s History of the United States” dwells almost exclusively on the “bad and the ugly” while giving [very] short shrift to the good. There are texts which do a decent job of providing a fair accounting of our history, “warts and all”. “A Peoples History…” is not one of them.

      • James Wyatt Whitehead V

        Don’t forget James Hemings Mr. DJ. Sally’s brother and Jefferson’s wife’s half brother. Trained in the art of French cooking. Earned his freedom. Committed suicide. Very interesting story.

  4. I wonder how many alumni there are for UVA and what a poll would show on this issue. Do the letter writers represent a majority view of the alumus or are they more a vocal minority?

    What does the rest of the Alumni think – do they support this letter?

    • As an alumnus I almost always disagree with Ryan. Almost always. I see no problem with contextualization of Thomas Jefferson. He was a man not a God. He tried to accuse John Adams of being a hermaphrodite for example. Even Trump wouldn’t stoop that low.

      Ryan is right (finally). Keep the statues but tell both sides of the story. Had Richmond done that, instead of glorifying only the Confederacy they would still have their beloved statues on Monument Avenue.

  5. re: ” As an institution we are proud of our association with Thomas Jefferson. His contributions to the creation of modern-day democracy and to the principles of religious freedom know few equals in world history. We believe that contextualizing the statue is an appropriate action. To be clear, removing any statue of our Founder or disassociating ourselves from his remarkable legacy would be anathemas to the Board of Visitors or the University administration.”

    So they’re NOT removing statues and this is still not acceptable because they are going to add context?

    I thought this is what those opposed to removing the statues wanted?

    • “So they’re NOT removing statues and this is still not acceptable because they are going to add context?

      I thought this is what those opposed to removing the statues wanted?”

      Actually, Larry, the “contextualization” issue was related to confederate statues. Some wanted them to be contextualized instead of being removed. That argument was lost; those statues are gone.

      This is not the same thing, and you have previously stated as much on this blog. Have you changed your mind?

      • History should always be contextualized – especially by institutions of higher learning.

        Better contextualized history than canceled history.

        • and when it’s not and it’s refused – for decades/generations, it risks “cancel”.

          I totally agree. Had there been context instead of rejection, things might have been different.

        • I agree. History needs to be contextualized. And, Thomas Jefferson’s character and life have been contextualized more than just about any American in the history of the country. Only those who are truly not paying attention are not aware of his flaws.

          But do a person’s character flaws really need to be enumerated/discussed on the statues and monuments we erect to honor them? I would not want to encounter a plaque describing Martin Luther King’s womanizing, homophobia and plagiarism when I visit the memorial constructed to honor him. I’m aware he was not perfect. But I do not need to be constantly reminded of his flaws while I am visiting a place intended to honor him and the good he did in the world.

          I have the same opinion about Thomas Jefferson; and about all of our national heroes for that matter.

  6. With respect to THIS particular blog post, the letter of protest from Alumni, and UVA’s statement about Jefferson:

    “So they’re NOT removing statues and this is still not acceptable because they are going to add context?

    I thought this is what those opposed to removing the statues wanted? ”

    I understand and realize some don’t want to deal with the truth and reality… that’s part of the ongoing problems.

    • …and you continue to act like a four-year-old child. But you haven’t answered the question. Have you changed your mind about protecting statues and monuments which honor the founders of this country?

  7. Rector Ryan should install “cry closets” next to the contextualized statue of Jefferson. “Cry Closets” will be needed at the football stadium as well. Thousands of them. Not until next fall though. When the Hokies spank UVA for the umpteenth time.

  8. “Thomas Jefferson: Radical and Racist”

    Subtitle: “In the multiracial American future Jefferson will not be thought of as the Sage of Monticello. His flaws are beyond redemption. The sound you hear is the crashing of a reputation”.

    The “contextualization” of Thomas Jefferson has been going on for quite some time. This article should make certain folks here at BR positively ecstatic at the “bad and ugly” portrayal of Mr. Jefferson.


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