26 April 2016

Mom complains she can't shield her son from slave-owning past of U.S. founders

In a recent story for the American Conservative, Suzanne Sherman describes her recent cross-country trip to visit historic sites related to the founding fathers. She hoped for a trip steeped in political theory and history about the philosophies that shaped the founding of the U.S. What she got was tours of the homes and lessons on the importance of slaves to the lives of these great white men.

She didn't like it.

The docent leading the tour of [Monticello] never missed an opportunity: as we moved from one floor to another, we were instructed to imagine how difficult it was for the “enslaved servants to carry meal trays up and down this narrow stairway.” At every hearth: “imagine enslaved servants having to carry wood up to these fireplaces…” It just went on and on. 
Jefferson’s philosophical and political viewpoints were omitted to leave time for an explanation of how difficult life was for his servants. Not once did the guide omit the adjective “enslaved”—his demeanor was patronizing and condescending to those who made the journey to see Monticello, for anyone vaguely familiar with Thomas Jefferson would know that he owned slaves. 
The point is not that the issue of slavery is unworthy of recognition; it is that slavery is dominating the theme of these places to the detriment of the discussion and sharing of the ideals, philosophies and political goals upon which the American republic was founded. The Montpelier Foundation and The Thomas Jefferson Foundation have lost sight of the ideals these men stood for. Both Jefferson and Madison are buried on their respective properties, and if you go to their places of rest and sit quietly, you can hear them rolling over in their graves.
V.R. Bradley at the Negro Subversive blog has a nice response to all the "issues" raised by Sherman and concludes saying:
This is the history of the American South, which you, not being from this region, might find it convenient to avoid, but which you have no right to expect the nation as a whole to avoid so that you might miss it while starting it square in the face. Moreover, as it is the history of the material foundations of the United States of America, it is the only history you have this side of the Atlantic.