Even in a time of heightened racial issues at MU, students protesting the statue of Thomas Jefferson like Maxwell Little and others behind the #postyourstateofmind movement should consider a deeper dive into Jefferson's history. In college was also where I found a passion for history, and more research will help them discover why Jefferson’s statue should remain on campus.
While Jefferson did own slaves, he was also one of the nation’s loudest voices for emancipation. Despite state law not allowing him to free his own slaves, his anti-slavery record was well known by previous generations. One of Jefferson’s first acts upon entering Virginia’s legislature was introducing a law abolishing slavery. He argued against slavery in court multiple times. Frederick Douglass declared that it was “Thomas Jefferson that taught me that all men are created equal” and that “Jefferson was not ashamed to call the black man his brother and to address him as a gentleman.”
Students’ concerns over Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemings are also misplaced. Despite the publicity given to the sensational story in the journal "Science" in 1998 about Jefferson fathering Hemings’ children, the story was amended only eight weeks later. Jefferson’s brother Field may have fathered Hemings’ children, but Thomas Jefferson was practically eliminated as the father.
I applaud these students for their interest in history and hope their studies continue as they discover the truth about Thomas Jefferson.
David Barton is the author of "Jefferson Lies," which will be published in January. He lives in Aledo, Texas. He also is the founder and president of WallBuilders, a national pro-family organization that, according to its website, "presents America's forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on our moral, religious and constitutional heritage." His book "The Jefferson Lies" was published by Thomas Nelson Publishers and then recalled after reports of factual errors.