The Thomas Jefferson Memorial, which has stood near the banks of the Potomac River in Washington for more than 70 years, is a classical tribute to the author of the Declaration of Independence and the third U.S. president.
This week, the Jefferson Memorial was drawn into the national debate about race following the shooting deaths of nine people in a predominantly black church in South Carolina last week. It joins other public statues depicting Southern or Confederate figures, including Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, that some are arguing represent the country’s racist past and should be removed.
CNN anchor Ashleigh Banfield this week questioned whether the Jefferson Memorial should be taken down because Jefferson owned slaves. “There is a monument to him in the capital city of the United States. No one ever asks for that to come down,” Banfield said.
Fellow anchor Don Lemon responded by saying Jefferson represented “the entire United States, not just the South.” But he added: “There may come a day when we want to rethink Jefferson. I don’t know if we should do that.”
Their comments have been picked up by conservative news sites and blogs. On Infowars, blogger Paul Joseph Watson compared taking down the Jefferson Memorial to the logic of Islamic State terrorists “who have spent the last year tearing down historical statues and monuments because they offend their radical belief system.”
Jefferson owned slaves and had children with one of them, Sally Hemings, who is believed to have been a teenager when she first gave birth. Several other presidents including George Washington, Andrew Jackson and James Madison also owned slaves.
At the University of Texas, Austin, a public statue of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, was reportedly vandalized this week with the words “Black Lives Matter” and “Bump the Chumps.” Another Davis statue at the Statehouse in Frankfort, Ky., has come under scrutiny, with some calling for the work of art to be taken down.
Read more: LA Times