The trustees for the National Mall have indicated an upcoming change to the Jefferson Memorial, according to The Washington Examiner. It will update to include “the complexity” of Thomas Jefferson’s participation in slavery.
The non-profit group called the Trust for the National Mall is hoping to get ahead of any protests at the Jefferson Memorial in the wake of nationwide protests of Confederacy statues and other perceived racially charged monuments to America’s past. The group’s president, Catherine Townsend, says, “In the coming weeks and months, the physical symbols of American history and democracy will be scrutinized and challenged.”
"When that happens, we will work with our partners to ensure the National Mall continues to be a vibrant and relevant place where Americans can learn about our history and imagine our future, together,” she adds.
The Examiner reports:
In practice, that means that visitors to "America's Front Yard" will see the Founding Fathers honored, but there will be a new emphasis on their personal records as slave-owners. The changes might first be apparent at the Jefferson Memorial; the Trust, even before the renewed debate over Confederate statues, has been planning to raise money to refurbish the National Park Service exhibit accompanying the memorial, which has deteriorated since its installment about 20 years ago.
The Examiner also received word from an official of the Trust, who stated, “We can reflect the momentous contributions of someone like Thomas Jefferson, but also consider carefully the complexity of who he was.”
Because the Trust is funding with private donations, it “wield[s] significant influence over the new exhibits,” the report notes. Essentially, that means they will change the exhibits at the will of the donors, as the official said: “That is where we'll be their partner in bringing together thought leaders and scholars to make sure that that content is really appropriate and thorough for what should be at that particular site."
However, the official did say not all of Jefferson’s sordid past with slavery and his “concubine,” Sally Hemings. The intent of the Trust isn’t to delve into every last detail -- they'll leave that to the museum at Monticello -- but the pressure is on that visitors be constantly reminded that a revered Founding Father indeed owned slaves as if somehow that has been forgotten.
Townsend, the Trust’s president also said, “Recent events only reinforce the need for an open, inclusive and safe space for Americans to exercise their First Amendment rights and to gather in pursuit of our shared ideals -- life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all. I hope you will join us as we steward private support to implement modern and resilient solutions that can transform this dynamic space and preserve the historic legacy of the National Mall. We want to hear from you, and we want to work with you."