Ibram X. Kendi asks and answers this question: What would Jefferson say about white supremacists descending upon his university?

Historians in the News
tags: racism, Thomas Jefferson, Charlottesville, White supremacists



Ibram X. Kendi is a historian at American University and the National Book Award-winning author of "Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America." Follow @DrIbram

... His ideas lend ammunition to both sides. He was a champion of human hierarchy and human equality. He was a defender of the freedom to oppress and the freedom from oppression.

Jefferson also had a complicated relationship to the Confederate States of America and their white nationalist defenders. Jefferson stood in history as both the inspirational relative and ideological enemy of the Confederacy.

In sum, Jefferson’s legacy embodied the clash that snatched and harmed human life in the city of Jefferson over the last few days.

Confederate leaders revered Jefferson long before they seceded from the Union. To some he was a direct relative. He was the second cousin-in-law of Lee.

To others, he was an inspiration. Jefferson Davis was not just named after him. As a slaveholder, U.S. senator and then Confederate president, Davis shared Jefferson’s values: states’ rights, limited federal power over their property, extended federal military power over their captives, racist ideas and constitutional protections for slavery.

Although Confederate leaders traced their ideological and relational roots to Jefferson, they also knew that his most famous words threatened their plantations. The Confederates seceded from Thomas Jefferson when they seceded from his independent Union. If Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence remains the soul of the United States, then Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens revealed what historian Henry V. Jaffa termed “the soul of the Confederacy” on March 21, 1861. Both justified their new nations and laid out their ideals. ...





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