Founding Father of Bigotry

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[1]) 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.

[1] 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.


6 thoughts on “Founding Father of Bigotry

  1. Wu Young, Agent of M.E.

    Good post Tunde!

    Jefferson, like many men of his time saw themselves as enlightened, which is laughable. I’ll never forget a course in college where we were discussing T.J’s quotes and one of the comments basically compared the freeing of slaves to not minding children or domesticated animals. One of the basketball players in my class burst out and said “…but he’d still tap that a**!”

    As crude as that comment was it was a perfect response to Jefferson’s idiocy when it came to slavery. I’ve also had convos with people who said “Well Sally Hemmings loved him.” but didn’t understand how wrong their relationship was due to the fact that he literally owned her a**.
    I always give historical figures, both those I admire and loathe the side-eye, but Jefferson’s hypocrisy has always stood out.

  2. Lioness Rising

    I always wonder about people who are a “products of their times” mainly because their ignorance is not shared by everyone, showing its possible to think outside of the status quo, as LEADERS should do. Even know we still have slavery, LGBT right, rights for Blacks/Latinos, etc. Some people follow their moral compass no matter what era they live in. I can accept that many uneducated right who were taught to think as they were told follow ideas of slavery, Jim Crow etc, but TJ and other leaders were highly educated and knew better. You can’t tell me he didn’t know that Africans/Blacks were full human people with the same capabilities as whites. He just decided to see things differently because it was advantageous to him.

    1. madscientist7 Post author

      i chalk that up to ppl who want to make excuses or their heroes. they don’t want to accept the fact that they had sullied lives. anything to big up white america i guess.

  3. Gem

    great post.

    my high school teacher was black (in the Barry O sense) and he always gave us the real run down about American History. i dont remember spefic discussions about TJ’s bigotry but im sure we discussed it, like we discussed Ab Linc. since his class, i’ve always looked at America’s history with a side-eye.

  4. Divine

    Great post. While reading, this is what popped into my head: “Lest our hearts drunk with the wine of the world we forget thee….

    Folks are drunk off of the wine and have chosen you ignore the reality of our history and the role men like Thomas Jefferson played in it.


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