In conversation with friends, my granddaughter, an historical interpreter at Colonial Williamsburg, described the question she asks people on the tour she leads at the palace. Who was the last governor to inhabit the palace? If no one answers she gives a clue. “He’s a well-known historical figure with red hair.” If still no one answers, she gives another clue. “He wrote the Declaration of Independence.”

Getting the answer, one friend averred “I don’t really care what color hair he had.”

Here’s my reaction. I think it’s very important to know what color hair he had. Why? Because we learned in school, and in the years following, to see our founding fathers as icons, fixed images of wisdom and unchangeable truths. It follows that we adhere to them as if they are not to be challenged.

That’s not the truth. These were real men, courageously working together to break away from old restraints and establish a new society. They worked, argued, fought, and compromised within the limits of their own experience. The Declaration of Independence was a work in progress, on which they finally decided to agree and get on with it.

Why is it important that Jefferson had red hair? Because it describes him as a living, imperfect human being who needed haircuts. The danger in sealing the arguments of our founders as if they were fixed, unchangeable, perfect-for-all-time pronouncements is to deny the very treasure they left us with… the flexibility and freedom to move and change with the demands of the time and the people who populate it.

In appreciation of Martin Luther King on his day.


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  1. YES I say! wonderful observation. No more icons. A red-haired icon – not possible.

  2. at first I didn’t see where you were headed with the hair, but in the end I loved the point you were making. thanks, I enjoyed this

  3. The originals of every social, national, or cultural iconography ALL have clay feet. Jefferson certainly had his. I wonder whether the children his slave woman bore to him had red hair. Do you suppose? He wrote the Declaration of Independence, yet, like the rest of us, had a few “dependencies” of his own that later icons (MLK and the like) addressed to rescue the essential philosophical principle of The Declaration of Independence from the time-bound perceptual and moral framework that held Jefferson and his compatriots from fulfilling its meaning and potential. So…the next time you see someone with red hair and darker skin…remember…it may be kin to one of the nation’s most revered icons. 🙂 Thanks, Mona. .

  4. Thanks for the smile, and the search for red-haired dark-skinned sons (daughters)-of-an-icon.

    And thanks for a good “save” at the MLK celebration last evening.

  5. I have been studying the Book of Morman and Brigham Young and Joesph Smith. I believethe founders of this religion had feet of clay.

  6. Well said, Mona, and something important to remember. Too bad we don’t all think about it like that.

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