Thomas Jefferson is known as one of America’s founding fathers. He was the third president of the United States and the primary writer of The Declaration of Independence.
He is honored in the United States as one of the early pioneers who helped shape the U.S. government as we know it today.
Despite being a wealthy slave master and investor in the institution of slavery, in 1776 Jefferson wrote, “God made all men equal and gave them the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
This statement contradicts what was written and what was reality at that time. There were hundreds of thousands of Black men who were, in fact, not equal and were not given any rights.
Jefferson was born in 1743; he was raised in Virginia. American slavery was an institution that Jefferson was a beneficiary of; as an adult, he owned nearly 200 enslaved Africans on his estate.
Slavery and its effects are often swept under the rug to cover America’s ugly history. These topics are often skimmed over and watered down when taught in classes.
The institution of slavery was very cruel. It was inhumane, a human rights violation to the fullest extent. The way African Americans were treated during these times was atrocious. Everyone who was involved and or benefited from this institution is to blame.
Slavery intentionally degraded people of African descent as if they were not human. Animals or materialistic objects often had more value than enslaved Africans. African Americans had very little to no rights; they were forced to work out of fear.
For hundreds of years, free labor resulted in extreme economical wealth for the United States, particularly in the Southern states – with no acknowledgments or reparation for Black people in return.
This may be a no-brainer to some, but to others, not so much; because many enslavers are acknowledged and celebrated throughout American history.
But enslavers of any kind should not be celebrated. These men and women who supported and contributed to slavery should have been subjected to the highest penalties of the law. The acts were not ordinary and should not be treated as such.
Considering this, Jefferson – who is on prominent display in FAMU’s Coleman Library – should not be celebrated at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The same applies to any other enslaver or beneficiary.
To celebrate men such as Thomas Jefferson at HBCUs- men who were invested in the system of slavery, is completely preposterous.
These are the very same people who despised the idea of African Americans being educated.
During these times, Black people were not allowed to read or write; it was illegal to do so. The consequences of Black people even attempting to learn to be educated often resulted in death or serious bodily harm.
The system of slavery aimed to keep Black people uneducated to control them and manipulate them into thinking they were inferior. Most people who benefited from slavery more than often despised the idea of African Americans being educated.
HBCUs were founded to provide higher education to people of African descent in America. The first HBCU was founded in 1837, years before the abolishment of slavery.
Celebrating men like Jefferson at HBCUs contradicts the most basic principles that HBCUs were founded upon. The same men that deemed it illegal for Black people to be educated and killed many for it.
HBCUs gave Black people a safe place to learn. They gave Black people a chance to educate and uplift each other.
Many can argue that Jefferson wrote about his disagreements with slavery. However, he still owned hundreds of enslaved people as he wrote those letters.
Similar to what we see now, privileged white people turn a blind eye to what is wrong because they do not want to sacrifice their privilege to stand up for what is right. Jefferson is the epitome of this.
Thomas Jefferson can be acknowledged for his work and contributions to the United States.
However, he should not be celebrated at HBCUs.