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Let’s not forget our past

Jefferson City News-Tribune

June 14

Students at the University of Missouri again are petitioning to remove the Thomas Jefferson statue from the Columbia campus, though university officials have said they will not remove it.

Jefferson, after all, was a slave owner who fathered children with one of his slaves.

The push to remove the statue was brought up five years ago amid racial tension on campus, and it has been resurrected in recent days in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a Minnesota man who died while in police custody.

Racism has been an ugly stain on our country since its inception. We’ve made progress with civil rights, but it’s been slow. We need to do more — much more.

Student Roman Leapheart started the petition, which had garnered more than 3,200 signatures on Change.org by Wednesday. In part, the petition reads: “A memorial of a racist has no place on out (sic) campus. The vast majority of these Confederate monuments were built during the era of Jim Crow laws (18771964).”

Jefferson’s MU statue isn’t a Confederate monument. It’s a statue of one of the Founding Fathers of our country. And it wasn’t erected during the era of Jim Crow laws; it was a gift in the early 2000s.

Thousands of black students, Leapheart wrote, pass by the statue daily and are “forced to deal with imagery of the past in the future where we should be promoting equality, diversity and inclusion.”

We agree that we must promote those values. But the removal of Thomas Jefferson’s statue or his name from all public view isn’t the answer.

Here in Jefferson City, should we remove Thomas Jefferson’s statue at the Capitol? Do we rename Jefferson Street? And what about the name of our city?

Jefferson was our third president. He was a Founding Father, a principal author of the Declaration of Independence. He organized the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled our nation’s land.

He was also a slave owner who said slavery is a “moral depravity” and tried to reduce it.

That contradiction — that hypocrisy — is hard for us to understand. But here’s part of the problem: We’re judging an 18th century man by our 21st century standards. It’s an ethnocentric view.

Jefferson’s ownership of slaves was commonplace for landowners in his day. Since then, we have refined our values and beliefs, and our attitudes of slavery and many other things have changed for the better.

We want to see historic characters such as Jefferson in black or white, good or evil. It’s not that simple.

Would removing Jefferson’s statue — or anything else named after him — eliminate social injustice? Would it cure the racism that does still exist in this country? Would it change people’s hearts? No, it would just be an attempt to erase our history.

Our country will continue to evolve and change for the better. But let’s not forget our past.

Let’s continue to honor Jefferson’s many achievements to our great nation, but let’s not forget that, on the issue of slavery, he was on the wrong side of history.

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