There is a large debate about if the name of the Thomas Jefferson District (of the UUA) should remain so. I have looked at the facts, seen the arguments, and have talked with scholars that specialize in Colonial Virginia. These are my conclusions:
- There is no debating that Thomas Jefferson was a great man who did many great things not only for this nation, but also for the cause of religious freedom. He authored the Declaration and the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. He also authored a bible, looking at Jesus as a man, not as a deity. He, like many wealthy land owners also owned slaves. He also had a rather dismal view of salves as a whole, but so did many, many others at that time. I also think that the life of leisure that being a slave owner afforded him helped to give him the time to follow his writing, statecraft and other pursuits. If he had to work that land by himself, I do not believe that he would have made many of the achievements that he did.
- I believe that the root of the issue isn’t with Jefferson’s wrong doings. We can’t change it. It’s history. I think the crux of the debate falls to the individuals having it, and what they hold dear. Throughout history, advances have been made in science, politics, religious freedom, and many other fields. Some of these advances have come about through trials, experiments and actions that we today call unethical. Do we discount those advances? If you are against animal testing, can you let your life be saved by drugs, or therapies tested on animals? Some people can not get past the negative qualities. Others choose to look at the situation as a whole.
- It’s just a name. Names are very transient things.
- I work for an institution that used to own slaves. There has never been a thought about changing the name, disbanding the college, or denying the past. It happened. It’s over. People are trying to repair the damage. But it’s the past, and there is no changing it.
- It was mentioned (perhaps in jest), that only the African American members be consulted on this issue. I’m not really liking that suggestion.
In the end, I chose to look at Jefferson as a whole, flawed man. I chose to weigh the negative against the positive. In the end it was just a name. Names are so fleeting that I don’t weight them heavily in a decision. The name wasn’t given in jest, it wasn’t given to be mean. It was given to honor one of the first people to try to codify religion freedom.
Why not honor that? Call the district the “Statue of Religious Freedom” District. That’s what we chose to honor.
Me, personally? I say leave it. It’s just a name. Take the energy and fight other injustices elsewhere. The name will change again, eventually.