Thomas Jefferson: Reputation and Legacy

By Francis D. Cogliano | Go to book overview

Chapter 7
Slavery

I

In 2003 several teachers at the Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in Berkeley, California, wrote to the parent-teacher association to propose changing the name of the school. The teachers appealed to the parents because, 'For some of our staff, it has become increasingly uncomfortable to work at a site whose name honors a slaveholder.' After a lengthy consultation, the students, staff and parents at the school submitted a petition to the Berkeley school board requesting that the school be renamed Sequoia, after California's giant redwood tree. For proponents of the name change, Jefferson's association with slavery outweighed his various achievements. 'Thomas Jefferson is revered as the primary author of one of the world's most respected and beloved documents,' read the petition. 'Jefferson is also a man who held as many as 150 African and African-American men, women and children in bondage, denying them the very rights which he asserted for all in the Declaration of Independence.' The petition continued, 'A school name which fails to acknowledge or respect the depth and importance of their people's collective sorrow is personally offensive … It is time to consider a name which unites us as a community.'

The staff and students at the school strongly favored the name change. 'It's an awkward position to ask African-American children and AfricanAmerican teachers to celebrate a historical figure who was a slave owner,' said teacher Marguerite Talley-Hughes. For Talley-Hughes, Jefferson's ownership of slaves made it difficult to teach children the moral lessons that Jefferson felt should be at the heart of education. 'Many people realize that Thomas Jefferson was a slaveholder,' said Talley-Hughes; 'that is a kind of a dilemma when you call someone a hero, a dilemma when you're trying to teach children right from wrong.' Parents were more evenly divided, voting 67 to 61 in favor of the name change. Some felt that Jefferson's association with slavery would make it easier to teach children values. As Mark Piccillo, a parent at the school, said, 'There's kind of an evolution in goodness and badness in children K–12. Jefferson

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Thomas Jefferson: Reputation and Legacy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Abbreviations xi
  • Introduction - The Estimation of the World 1
  • Chapter 1 - History 19
  • Chapter 2 - The Revolution 44
  • Chapter 3 - Jefferson's Papers 74
  • Chapter 4 - Monticello 106
  • Chapter 5 - Jefferson's Epitaph 137
  • Chapter 6 - Sally Hemings 170
  • Chapter 7 - Slavery 199
  • Chapter 8 - America and the World 230
  • Conclusion - Jefferson Survives 259
  • Index 269
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