The madness of trying to remove Thomas Jefferson from the University of Virginia

(© David Matthew Lyons –

The student newspaper at my alma mater, the University of Virginia, wants the school to distance itself from its founder, Thomas Jefferson, by removing his name from buildings and memorials dedicated to him from the grounds.

“There’s a reason the local Charlottesville Klu Klux Klan chapter held its dedication ceremony at Jefferson’s Monticello Tomb. There’s a reason white supremacists gathered with torches around the statue of Jefferson on the north side of the Rotunda. There’s a reason they felt comfortable walking Grounds,” the editorial board said. The Daily Rider wrote in an August 11 op-ed.

My best personal analogy to this would be for me to take a stand to distance myself from the most important person in my life to me growing up – my grandmother.

Granny, as the grandchildren knew her, was born in 1924, almost a century ago now, in Augusta County.

According to family tradition, she met my grandfather, originally from Pennsylvania, at a ball held at the PX in Aberdeen Arsenal at the start of World War II.

Predictably, whenever she got mad at him, she called him a “fucking Yankee.”

And when she gave people directions to their homes on New Hope Road in Staunton, she told them to “turn to Yankee Cemetery.”

That stuff was endearing, but it wasn’t all cute and cuddly.

Granny was a great George Wallace in the 1960s.

Yeah, this George Wallace.

The “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” guy.

She campaigned for him door-to-door, so, ugh, at this level.

It’s the same lady who is the reason I think the way I do about civil rights.

My grandmother worked at Western State Hospital for 25 years and I remember going with her to summer picnics and Christmas parties.

His colleagues ran the gamut in terms of background – Black, Asian, Latino.

They were all friends, stopping in for a glass of tea or dinner on the weekends when I spent the night there.

I vividly remember a Christmas party in Western State, when I was four, I won a cake walk, everyone in the room pointing and laughing because I had won, mine being the only white face in the room.

Weekends at Granny’s were the reason I grew up wanting to be a civil rights attorney and why when I decided law wasn’t for me I changed direction to become journalist writing about politics and society, with a focus on equal rights for people across racial, gender and sexual orientation lines being paramount.

I had no right to expect to be able to do anything meaningful.

I grew up in a trailer park and eventually learned that I was on the other side of the tracks.

The reason I trusted myself to be able to overcome my upbringing and make something of myself was that feisty little woman I knew as Grandma, who often told me that “you never leave, no one ever thinks he’s better than you, but you don’t think you’re better than anyone else either.

If I had to be of the mindset of the children on the editorial board of The Daily Rider about Thomas Jefferson, I’d look at my grandma and say, OK, yeah, she did a lot of good things, but, I mean, she tried to get a segregationist president elected, and who knows what? else, so maybe I should stop telling stories about his good deeds, that’s just whitewashing the story.

Me, I like to think that my grandmother, if she was born later, grew up in a different environment, would be an even better version of me than me.

I think the same of Thomas Jefferson.

Look, he owned slaves, could have freed them, didn’t – could have done things to end slavery on a much larger, societal scale, didn’t.

He also played many key roles in helping America grow from where it was to where it is today.

I can’t think, if he were alive today, that the guy who wrote that “all men are created equal” 246 years ago would be the kind of guy the KKK and neo-Nazis hang around. would rally, and I think the kids at the Daily Cav show their youthful ignorance by insisting otherwise.

We are all products of our time, and I say this here at the end to remind people who agree with the Daily Cav Jefferson’s interpretation that in a generation or two there will be things you say and do today that you will look back on and say, wow, that was, fill in the blank, racist, classist, misogynist, no matter.

If you want to cancel Thomas Jefferson, cancel my grandmother, whatever, it’s going to come back to you.

About Wesley V. Finley

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