Young America’s Foundation is a national conservative 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 like the only America they wish to promote is one that upholds the legacies of white supremacists. YAF will hold an event Thursday titled “In Defense of Mr. Jefferson.” Apparently, this event intends to preserve American history and the legacy of Thomas Jefferson. Not only is Jefferson one of the last figures in need of defense, it is dangerously ignorant to act like he has been inappropriately criticized.
I must ask, what has YAF done to shed light on the forgotten legacies of the more than 4,000 enslaved laborers who built and maintained this University? We are just now beginning to acknowledge the pain and suffering that has long maintained Jefferson’s vision — a vision that did not include people of color, women, LGTBQ+ students or many others. We must focus on the stories of those who have been marginalized and mistreated by this University and Jefferson’s life and legacy. While Jefferson passed just one year after the University’s opening, his legacy of white supremacy survived long after, paving the way for the University to eventually become a leader in eugenics and white supremacist teachings. We continue to grapple with issues of white supremacy on Grounds. The last thing we need to do is defend the white supremacist origins of this University and this country.
Jefferson does not need defense. His accomplishments are constantly recognized, with his legacy as a Founding Father recognizing his authorship of the Declaration of Independence, presidency and Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. On the other hand, the University is barely beginning to acknowledge the history of enslavement and bigotry this institution operated on. Through the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers and student-designed historical tours, we are beginning to restore the agency to those silenced by the founders and founding of this University.
I surmise YAF’s event is a response to these recent pushes for contextualizing the University’s history. The Jefferson Council, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving Jefferson’s legacy and a co-sponsor of YAF’s event, called such tours “mental enslavement to left-wing dogma, [and] required Social Justice training.” Organizations like the Jefferson Council and 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 with the subject matter of the tours, claiming they operate through a left-wing agenda, even though it is simply basic history. It is history that puts cracks in their rose-colored view of the founding fathers and the growth of America. It is history that makes organizations like the Jefferson Council uncomfortable, so they will continue to politicize it.
When we criticize Jefferson, his eugenics, his slavery or his abuse of Sally Hemings and many others, we are contextualizing history, not erasing it. For far too long we have only focused on history that centers the accomplishments of the white men in our textbooks. We need to shift our efforts from defending their stories to returning the agency of those who have been silenced. Instead of attending YAF’s event, I urge you to attend a HEAAL tour at the University. This is not “Mr. Jefferson’s University” — it is all of ours. We must no longer silence the voices of those communities hurt by a legacy of white supremacy. This legacy of Jefferson has always been uplifted — by the University community, by our society or by organizations like YAF. We do not need the so-called Young Americans for Freedom to advance this narrative of our history. Rather, the time has come to teach about the real lasting legacy of Jefferson and his University — one of violence, eugenicist teachings and the continued oppression of marginalized communities.
Nicole Chebili is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at email@example.com.
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.