The Young America’s Foundation is a conservative national political organization with a chapter of Young Americans for Freedom at the university. According to their chapter Instagram page, they are “Pro-Freedom, Pro-Constitution and Pro-America.” Yet it seems the only America they want to promote is the one that upholds the heritage of white supremacists. YAF will host an event called “In Defense of Mr. Jefferson” on Thursday. Apparently, this event aims to preserve American history and the legacy of Thomas Jefferson. Not only is Jefferson one of the last figures in need of self-defense, he’s dangerously ignorant to act as though he’s been inappropriately criticized.
I have to ask, what did YAF do to shed light on the forgotten legacy of the over 4,000 slave laborers who built and maintained this university? We’re just beginning to recognize the pain and suffering that long fueled Jefferson’s vision – a vision that did not include people of color, women, LGTBQ + students, or many others. We need to focus on the stories of those who have been marginalized and abused by this university and the life and legacy of Jefferson. While Jefferson spent just a year after the University opened, his white supremacist legacy survived long afterward, paving the way for the University to eventually become a leader in the teaching of eugenics and science. white supremacy. We continue to grapple with white supremacist issues on the pitch. The last thing we need to do is stand up for the white supremacist origins of this university and this country.
Jefferson doesn’t need defense. His accomplishments are constantly recognized, his legacy as a Founding Father acknowledging his authorship of the Declaration of Independence, the Presidency, and the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom. On the other hand, the University is just beginning to recognize the history of slavery and sectarianism upon which this institution operated. Through the Bonded Labor Memorial and student-designed historical tours, we are beginning to restore the agency to those silenced by the founders and founders of this university.
I guess the YAF event is a response to these recent pushes to contextualize the history of the University. The Jefferson Council, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving Jefferson’s legacy and co-sponsor of the YAF event, called the tours “mental slavery to leftist dogma, [and] training required in social justice. Organizations like the Jefferson Council and the YAF choose to sweep the ugly history of the University under the rug and continue to promote a founding father who left a legacy of oppression. The Jefferson Council has qualms about the subject of touring, saying it operates on a leftist agenda, even if it’s just a grassroots story. It’s the story that puts cracks in their rosy view of the Founding Fathers and America’s growth. It’s history that makes organizations like the Jefferson Council uncomfortable, so they will continue to politicize it.
When we criticize Jefferson, his eugenics, slavery or abuse of Sally Hemings and many others, we contextualize the story, we don’t erase it. For too long we have focused only on the story that centers the accomplishments of white men in our textbooks. We must shift our efforts from defending their stories to returning the agency of those who have been silenced. Instead of attending the YAF event, I urge you to attend a HEAAL visit to the University. It’s not “Mr. Jefferson’s University” – it’s all up to us. We must no longer silence the voices of these communities wounded by a white supremacist legacy. This Jeffersonian legacy has always been raised – by the community academia, our society, or organizations like YAF. We don’t need the so-called Young Americans for Freedom to advance this narrative of our history. Rather, now is the time to teach Jefferson’s true enduring legacy and its university – a legacy of violence, eugenic teachings and continued oppression of marginalized communities.
Nicole Chebili is an opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at [email protected]
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of Cavalier Daily. The columns represent the views of the authors alone.