The Jefferson Memorial is an iconic Washington landmark and the National Park Service calls it a “shrine to freedom,” but two of Thomas Jefferson’s descendants are calling for it to be replaced.
Lucian Truscott and Shannon LaNier told CNN on Tuesday that the memorial glorifies America’s third president and author of the Declaration of Independence – without including context about him being a slave owner.
Truscott, who is white, is a sixth-generation descendant of Jefferson and LaNier, who’s black, is a ninth-generation descendant of Jefferson and Sally Hemings – one of Jefferson’s slaves.
“I think a lot of these public statues were put in place for the wrong reasons and to glorify people who were flawed. We have to start looking at these people as human beings, not gods, not idols,” LaNier said.
While Jefferson famously wrote that “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” he owned hundreds of slaves over his lifetime.
“He said one thing, but he didn’t practice that thing,” LaNier said. “People have been giving him a pass for years because he helped found this country, but he also helped do it on the backs of slaves, whether that was their blood sweat and tears that they had to put in to do it.”
The suggestion comes as people around the world are debating what to do with statues and monuments honoring historic figures.
Many cities have removed Confederate monuments over the past few months, and protesters have targeted statues of Christopher Columbus because of his horrible treatment of Indigenous people, and the founding fathers for their participation in slavery.
Truscott told CNN that he grew up playing at Monticello, Jefferson’s Virginia home, and said it’s a much more fitting tribute to his ancestor.
“If you visit Monticello now, you’ll take a tour and learn as much about slave life at Monticello as you do about Jefferson himself,” Truscott said. “I think that it gives a picture of Jefferson in full with his flaws and his greatness intact.”
He suggests that the Jefferson Memorial be replaced with a tribute to Underground Railroad leader Harriet Tubman, who he calls one of of America’s “founding mothers.”
“I think we’ve paid enough attention to the founding fathers over the years and it’s time to celebrate some of the women that helped found this country,” Truscott said. “I describe Harriet Tubman as helping to found the America that came along after slavery.”
LaNier said it could also be replaced with a symbol of unity, “which is desperately needed right now.” He said that every historical figure has flaws, and that shouldn’t be forgotten.
“We’re not erasing history, we’re teaching the full story of what is and what these people did to and for our country.”