As UVa Protesters Shroud Mr. Jefferson’s Statue, What Would TJ Think?

A handful of protesters on the University of Virginia’s Grounds Tuesday night may have done more harm to their cause than good.

Only one day after UVa’s Deans Working Group released its response to the August 11, 2017, protests by white supremacists that resulted in violence, the death of a counter-protester, the death of two state troopers killed in a helicopter crash while observing the violence, and the shrouding of a Robert E. Lee statue in the Charlottesville park that was the center of the events, a protest group shrouded the Thomas Jefferson statue on the Grounds of Mr. Jefferson’s University:

One month after white nationalists stormed the Rotunda at the University of Virginia, bearing tiki torches and chanting, “You will not replace us,” a smaller but equally vocal crowd of protesters took to the Rotunda on Tuesday night, covering a statue of Thomas Jefferson in a black shroud.

The group of about 100 U.Va. students, faculty and community members gathered despite the rain to deride the university’s response to the summer’s wave of white nationalist demonstrations.

They covered the U.Va. founder’s statue in black, mimicking the city’s decision to shroud the statues of Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson in the wake of the violent Aug. 12 rally that resulted in one death and dozens of injuries.

With nearby Monticello overlooking the UVa campus, I have often wondered what Mr. Jefferson would think of activities such as the August 11 and Tuesday night protests. One of the most interesting reads I found was from a Facebook website called Book: Founding Fathers, full of satire and humor. It was an “observation” from the University founder himself, as the author would imagine it to be.

The comments had originally been published in 2015 in response to the suggestion that D.C.’s Jefferson Memorial be closed. I think they equally apply to Tuesday night’s protest at the Rotunda. The author wrote:

Mr. Jefferson just had to respond:

“Sure, take away my quotations. Take my Memorial. At this stage in life, I mean death, I don’t care.

“But while you’re at it, please return to me the following:

“Your nation’s Independence, which I declared. See how you like living under the English, and Prince Charles, again.

“And the two-party system, that Mr. Madison and I set up. A mixed blessing, sure. But see how’d you like living in a one-party state, as under King George, or Kim Jong-Un.

“Also, the 530,000,000 acres from my Louisiana Purchase. Monetary compensation will do. Say, $3 trillion.

“Add in the White House and the Capitol, whose construction I supervised for another one of those old, now-despised Virginians, General Washington.

“Plus all the royalties and fees, with interest, for window blinds, the dumbwaiter and elevator, and the Xerox machines, which inventions or prototypes I invented. About $5 billion will do.

“Actually, I invented the Patent Office, so I may be due a portion of every invention of every American inventor. $2 trillion maybe.

“Also, some of the royalties from Stephen Ambrose’s book Undaunted Courage, about the Lewis and Clark expedition I planned.

“And some fairness about me and slavery. I was far from perfect, heaven knows. But in my Northwest Ordinance, along with establishing a decentralized, county system of democratic government for every new state, I outlawed slavery north of the Mason-Dixon line. And I backed a nation for freed slaves in Liberia, which my protegee Mr. Monroe established. I also wrote a sweeping condemnation of the slave trade in my original Declaration, before it got edited out.

“But I got my revenge: as President I signed into law a ban on the worst thing about forced servitude–the horrific Passage across the Atlantic of countless African slaves, outlawing the theft of any more unfortunates into the USA.

“Furthermore, I would like returned to me the lavish Richmond, Virginia, state house that I designed. Estimated value: $500 million.

“And some acknowledgement for my pivotal role in establishing the separation of state and church in this country. As opposed to the way, say, ISIS or Saudi Arabia do it. Monetary value: Priceless.

“Finally, please give me back my University of Virginia, and all its grounds. Maybe $2 billion.

“Throw in free season tickets to every Cavalier game, and I’ll call us even.

“One other thing, as a keen observer of human events for some 300 years.

“I’d suggest adding to the rich fabric of our history instead of deleting from it. For instance, my home state long had highways called Robert E. Lee and Jeff Davis. And it still does. But it added plenty of roads and schools with names like Martin Luther King and Frederick Douglass.

“That’s the way to do it.

“Add to our silken tapestry, instead of pulling out the seams.

“And by the way, you really don’t owe me anything. For anything I accomplished I did in the spirit of public service, and patriotism. So that you could pursue your own happiness and live your lives in liberty.

“From the hilltop of Monticello, warmest regards to my fellow Americans,

“Thomas Jefferson”

While UVa’s report by the Deans Working Group suggested the school could have researched better in preparation for the white supremacists who unexpectedly marched on Grounds in August, it would have done nothing to prevent Tuesday night’s protest at the Rotunda that reportedly included students and faculty.

On Wednesday UVa President Teresa Sullivan strongly rebuked the protesters:

Last night about forty students held a demonstration on the north side of the Rotunda and as part of this demonstration, they shrouded the Jefferson statue, desecrating ground that many of us consider sacred. I strongly disagree with the protestors’ decision to cover the Jefferson statue. University personnel removed the shroud. One person was arrested for public intoxication. These are the facts of the situation, regardless of what you may read in media accounts of those who have their own agenda.

“Going forward, the University of Virginia and higher education institutions across the nation must be prepared to respond to situations in which violence and intimidation accompany demonstrations and protests,” the Working Group wrote, and added, “It is incumbent upon the University to forge new policies and practices that will prevent it from again becoming a locus of intimidation and violence while recommitting to the principles of free speech at the core of its mission.”