The Jefferson Memorial which sits in the National Mall in Washington D.C. is scheduled to be updated to reflect the fact that Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, was a slaveholder.
The changes to the Jefferson Memorial come amid the controversy over whether monuments and statutes reflecting the Confederacy and slavery should be removed from public places. Speculation abounds about which of the monuments honoring our Founding Fathers will be the next to be vandalized, or whether groups or individuals will demand their removal.
The updates are to happen at the exhibit which is located alongside the memorial. The updates will include the fact that Thomas Jefferson was a complex individual who happened to own slaves.
For now, it appears the Jefferson Memorial remains safe as a monument. The president of the Trust for the National Mall, Catherine Townsend, announced, “In the coming weeks and months, the physical symbols of American history and democracy will be scrutinized and challenged. When that happens, we will work with our partners to ensure the National Mall continues to be a vibrant and relevant place where Americans can learn about our history and imagine our future, together.”
Kate Greenberg, who is the vice president of marketing and communications for The Trust, told Fox News that after the violence in Charlottesville, “it became clear to us that some of that discussion would spill onto the National Mall,” acknowledging that Jefferson is “one of the most obvious because of his complexity,” not only as a Founding Father, but as a slaveholder as well.
Greenberg further stated that,“This was an active project for us prior to the event, but it’s obviously a topic people are really interested in, and this is a way for people to get involved with an organization like ours to engage.”
The Trust is raising funds from private donors to preserve and improve the National Mall, specifically for elements not eligible for federal dollars.
The Washington Examiner, first reported that the Jefferson Memorial was to receive an update to include Jefferson’s ownership of slaves. A Trust spokesman said “We can reflect the momentous contributions of someone like Thomas Jefferson, but also consider carefully the complexity of who he was. And that’s not reflected right now in the exhibits.”
The Trust has “significant influence” over exhibits because it provides private funding for the National Mall. And because the National Park Service is currently operating with a $11.49 billion maintenance deficit, the Trust is actively seeking support from private donors for the upgrades to the exhibit, and for necessary repairs to the space underneath the dome of the Jefferson Memorial.
Greenberg explained,“That space has not been updated in 20 years, so there is an opportunity to re-do the exhibit.” She also mentioned that there were accessibility issues to the Memorial. “We’re trying to make it a little more modern and more interactive to represent the complexity of someone like Jefferson in an appropriate way.”
The Trust will study and determine the “most inclusive and accurate information” on Jefferson for the exhibit, while “understanding that there are other sites across the nation that will be able to go into more depth,” such as Jefferson’s Monticello estate in Charlottesville, Virgina.
“I can’t tell you what will be in the space, but it will be thoughtfully considered,” Greenberg added. The timeframe to begin the project has not yet been determined, due to budget constraints, but she agrees that, “The sooner we have the funding, the sooner we can do this.”
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