News & Politics

Thomas Jefferson's Birthday Replaced With Slave Liberation Day in Charlottesville

On Monday, the City Council of Charlottesville, Va., voted to replace the official paid holiday celebrating the birth of Thomas Jefferson with an official paid holiday celebrating slave liberation in the city. The city council revoked Jefferson’s holiday during the week of July 4, the American holiday celebrating the Declaration of Independence, which Jefferson drafted. Charlottesville is indebted to Jefferson, and this decision seems a clear message of ingratitude.

Late on Monday, councilors voted to remove April 13, Jefferson’s birthday, from the city’s holiday schedule, NBC 29 reported. Jefferson’s birthday was the only holiday uniquely celebrated by the city.

While Charlottesville predates Jefferson’s plantation of Monticello by ten years, the modern city grew up in the shadow of Monticello and the University of Virginia, which Jefferson himself founded. Thomas Jefferson was the main author of the Declaration of Independence, which was ratified on July 4, widely considered America’s birthday. He also served as the nation’s first secretary of state, its second vice president, and its third president.

So why remove the holiday celebrating Jefferson? It seems political correctness had a great deal to do with the decision.

When the city council struck Jefferson’s birthday from the schedule, it added “Liberation and Freedom Day” as an official holiday, set for March 3. That holiday will commemorate the day U.S. troops officially emancipated slaves in Charlottesville shortly before the end of the Civil War. (NBC 29 falsely reported that this event happened “following the end of the Civil War,” yet the Union occupation of Charlottesville began on March 3, 1865, before the April 9 surrender at Appomattox, the May 9 Union declaration of victory, and the last Confederate surrender on June 23.)

“Having March 3rd be a designated holiday in the city will be a big step towards more accurately presenting the history of Charlottesville and recognizing the importance and value of the lives of the black residents who made up the majority of the population in the city and county at the time of the Civil War,” City Councilor Ben Doherty said.

Another member of the city council, Scott Warner, attacked the decision.

Of Jefferson, he said, “He was the nation’s first secretary of state, he was the second vice president of the United States, he was the third president of the United States. With all of these incredible accomplishments, it’s inconceivable for our area not to honor his birthday as a holiday.”

Two factors explain the decision, however. In the years leading up to the infamous August 2017 clashes between white nationalists and antifa-linked protesters in Charlottesville, a movement against Confederate monuments arose. This traced back to the horrific shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. The shooter had posted pictures of himself with a Confederate flag.

Protests at Confederate monuments broke out across the country in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, and the white nationalists who came to Charlottesville in 2017 claimed to be defending a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Shortly after the riots, Trump warned about a slippery slope.

“This week it’s Robert E. Lee, I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down,” Trump said. “I wonder, is it George Washington next week, and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”

Some have called for the removal of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., and even for the renaming of the nation’s capital. In 2017, a memorial to George Washington was removed from a church Washington frequently visited. Last year, college students in New York State demanded a Thomas Jefferson statue be removed, since the statue supports “white supremacy.”

Trump’s warning was correct, and it seems even the City of Charlottesville is rushing to excise America’s history. Jefferson may have owned slaves, and he infamously had relations with one of his slaves, leaving black descendants. Even so, he had a colossal impact on American history and deserves to be remembered and honored for his work.

This is a true tragedy, as it comes days before Americans celebrate the Declaration of Independence on July 4. Americans should be celebrating Jefferson this week, not removing him from public holidays.

Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.