My eighth grade U.S. History teacher was a middle-aged white man named Mr. Butkus (son of the Hall of Fame Chicago Bears Linebacker Dick Butkus). I loved his class because he passionate about what he taught and it had a trickle down effect to his students. I learned so much in the year I took his class. I still remember him passionately standing in front of the class retelling the story of the battles at Valley Forge and Fort Sumter. Only with hindsight did I realize that with being so engrossed in the immaculate story telling abilities of Mr. Butkus he never really mentioned the history of Black people within the history of this country. I don’t believe that he purposely left that out. He taught what the curriculum required.
When taking U.S. history I had a favorite president, Thomas Jefferson. I thought that he was such an accomplished man/president. He was the principle author of the Declaration of the Independence. He was the first Secretary of State and was vice-president under John Adams, he oversaw the Louisiana Purchase and he commissioned the Lewis and Clark expedition. One thing that was glossed over was that Thomas Jefferson was a lifelong long advocate of and owner of slaves. I was sent a link to a New York Times op-ed by Paul Finkelman and while reading it I couldn’t help but shake my head in disgust at some of the some of the quotes by Jefferson.
This leads me to a bigger issue we have with the glorification and whitewashing of this country’s forefathers (notice I didn’t say “our country”). Jefferson is revered as one of this country’s greatest presidents. His face even adorns Mount Rushmore (along with George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt), the nickel (his home Monticello is on the back) and the two-dollar bill.
Jefferson claimed her had “never seen an elementary trait of painting or sculpture” or poetry among blacks and argued that blacks’ ability to “reason” was “much inferior” to whites’, while “in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous.”
Antebellum enthusiasts (Thomas Sowell I’m looking at you) would argue that Jefferson was just a product of his time and the culture of country in which he lived. The America then was not the America of today. That’s fine when the man who wrote the words “all men are created equal” is talking about you but what about when those words weren’t meant to include you? It is time that men like Jefferson are really seen as they are instead of through rose-tinted glasses. He helped build this country out of the stages of infancy into the world power it is today. He also was morally bankrupt. When he passed his will only freed 5 slaves (his children he had with Sally Hemings) but not Sally Hemings herself. What part of the game is that? We need to stop trying to rewrite history that changes old white men who periwigs into superheroes.
I don’t want any Thomas Jefferson aficionados to think I’m picking on Thomas Jefferson. I just as easily could have written about Abraham Lincoln and Hollywood’s fascination with wanting to paint him as a president who wanted to end slavery based solely on his moral objection to it. We alllll know that ‘s not true but I guess if Hollywood keeps making movies about it then maybe they can rewrite history that way because you know people don’t really read books like that anymore.
 Thomas Sowell is a great social theorist, political philosopher, and author but after reading his Black Rednecks and White Liberals I became turned off when as a black man I found that he made excuse after excuse for slavery.