Charlottesville, part 1

Today I went to Charlottesville, Virginia.  My trip had nothing to do with recent events—we had planned a visit to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home, which happens to be a few minutes’ drive from where this past weekend’s mob violence occurred.  Our experience there was a vivid reminder that the racial tensions we’re dealing with today are nothing new.  The university in Charlottesville was founded by Jefferson, who owned more slaves than nearly anyone in the country.  Insane as it sounds, he even enslaved his own children!  (I know, I know—it hasn’t been proven; but DNA tests show a relation, and people in his own lifetime knew it.  Besides, how did Jefferson’s slave give birth to kids who had white skin, red hair, and freckles… just like him?)

In the document which marked our nation’s separation from British colonialism, Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”  Less than 12 years later, he wrote in a letter to Edward Bancroft that “to give liberty to, or rather, to abandon persons whose habits have been formed in slavery is like abandoning children.”  But like I mentioned above, this was a man who actually did enslave his own kids, at least four of them.

Before this famous line from the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson wrote that what followed was an explanation for why one group of people must sever their political connections with a government.  Less than a century later, Jefferson’s fellow Virginians would be among those who likewise wished to separate from their government—ironically, because they would deny their fellow man those same “unalienable rights.”  Their military leader was a general named Robert E. Lee, whose statue still stands a few miles from Monticello.  This statue was the site of the racially-motivated violence that still has the country reeling from this past weekend.  When I drove past the park today, it was still full of TV crews reporting on the story.

There are some other thoughts I’d like to share about all this, but I’m going to break it up over several days to make it more readable.  I hope this first post simply helps us realize just how deeply racial conflict and prejudice is embedded in our national psyche.  Sadly, we have never been healthy as a country in terms of race relations.  My dream is that by the time my generation passes from the scene, we will have made great strides in leaving future generations a society that experiences genuine racial harmony.

Lee statue

(This is the best shot I could get from a moving car as I drove past the statue today.)

Published in: on August 14, 2017 at 9:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

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