Another great figure of our history is being threatened, this time none other than Founding Father Thomas Jefferson. Students at Hofstra University in Long Island, New York started a campaign last year called “Jefferson Has Gotta Go!” to get rid of the iconic statue that stands outside the school’s student center. The group, comprised of several student organizations such as Democrats of Hofstra University, Queer and Trans People of Color Coalition, The Gender Identity Federation, and Young Democratic Socialists of Hofstra, continues its mission and met again to demand the removal of the statue.
Student JaLoni Ownes, a Black Lives Matter activist, started a petition to rid the university of the figure, saying it was an “icon” by “white supremacists and neo-nazi organizations.” It includes some strong language and makes some harsh accusations: “Jefferson owned nearly 600 slaves in his lifetime, proudly embraced eugenics and raped countless enslaved black women and children and forced them to deliver his biological children.”
Those against Jefferson being on campus claim the prominent placement is an insult and a celebration of slavery. At the time of this article, the measure had gained 1,177 signatures. A counter petition to Keep the Jefferson Statue at Hofstra University has gathered 2,112 signatures.
Those looking to keep the Founding Father where he stands agrees that slavery is abhorrent and should not be celebrated, but neither should a person be judged by the way of his times. It was the way of life during Jefferson’s time to own slaves, no matter how much we disagree with it now. “He was flawed by the times he lived in.” Jefferson needs to continue to be celebrated for all he has done, according to the petition:
“…Democracy was not always the status quo. In fact, for thousands of years, tyranny rained supreme as the most widely used form of government. Thomas Jefferson wrote the document that changed all that. The Declaration of Independence was written by Thomas Jefferson and put forth the idea that freedom and Democracy should ring loudest. It brought forth not just a new Republic in the United States, but showed the world that tyranny could be defeated.”
The statue battle ended in May last year when the school agreed Jefferson was exactly where he belonged and declared that they had no intentions of moving it. University President Stuart Rabinowitz published a statement addressing the issue and explaining the school’s reasoning.
“Thomas Jefferson articulated the best of our ideals in the Declaration of Independence and was a defender of freedom in helping to create a new nation: the United States of America. That he was also a man of his time, unable to fully implement the bold vision articulated in the Declaration and the Bill of Rights, is, viewed through a contemporary lens, difficult to understand or forgive. Yet few of our Founding Fathers were able to live out the dream they had sketched out, which was the unprecedented vision of a free and equal world. Their words were, in many ways, far ahead of their time and certainly ahead of their actions.”
The Left Won’t Compromise
But that isn’t the end of it. Activists are still after the statue’s removal and held a rally again this month. They insist it be removed to a museum or other place with appropriate content that, in their mind, aptly describes Jefferson’s real nature. How far will they get this go ‘round? We’ll have to wait and see, but last year’s antics included vandalizing the figure and even refusing to meet with staff and students to sit down and have a mature and informed discussion. Still, there is hope that Jefferson will continue to grace the university for years to come.