Ibram X. Kendi tells UVA crowd we need a national conversation about whether we should be memorializing Jefferson

Historians in the News
tags: slavery, racism, Thomas Jefferson, Black lives matter, Ibram X Kendi, Racist Ideas in America

Author Ibram X. Kendi delivered a keynote lecture entitled “Racist Ideas in America: From Slavery to Black Lives Matter” Friday afternoon at the University Baptist Church as part of the Virginia Festival of the Book. The event was sponsored by the Center for Race and Public Education in the South in the Curry School of Education and the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture. ...

In his lecture, Kendi drew a parallel between the history of Charlottesville in relation to Thomas Jefferson and the presence of the white supremacists in the city in August. 

“Those white supremacists who were marching in Charlottesville last summer believed in the very same idea — they wanted to create a white-ethno state,” Kendi said. “When they really came to the fore, came to the public mind, in the city of Jefferson, it actually makes complete historical sense … Jefferson was an advocate of a white-ethno state too.”

As a historian, Kendi said he wanted to ensure Charlottesville was remembered as a place of resistance to white supremacists. 

“When I think about Charlottesville … I think about a place where people resisted those white supremacists marching,” Kendi said. “That’s how I think this town will go down in historical records, and I’m going to try and be one of the people that ensures that happens.” 

Kendi said there was a contradiction in revering Jefferson while critiquing white supremacists. He encouraged Charlottesville and the University to be leaders in a conversation with regards to the way Jefferson is memorialized. His statements received applause from the audience members.

“I’m thinking that Charlottesville and the University of Virginia should lead a national conversation that causes us to rethink whether we should memorialize Thomas Jefferson,” Kendi said. “I don’t know a better place, I don’t know a better university, that could lead that conversation.”

Audience member Barbara Maille said reframing how the community views Jefferson, and not revering him, was a radical idea — but she agreed with it.

“The most radical thing [Kendi] said was maybe we could have a conversation about the fact that we can stop revering Thomas Jefferson,” Maille said. “We can’t do both. We can’t revere someone and also acknowledge what a racist, slave-owning oppressor he was.” ...

Read entire article at The Cavalier Daily

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