Archive for the ‘Thomas Jefferson’ Tag


Having studied so many sources with our group’s exploration of the history and contemporary avoidance and betrayal of racial justice in the history of our United States, this excellent book has much to add. Unlike some reviewers who didn’t like the author’s often poetic style, I found that to be a major draw. It is one thing to allow oneself to be exposed to the truth and quite another to be inspired to compassion instead of reaching into the myriad forms of denial that protect oneself from responsibility. His style did inspire to compassion as he reported the truth with honesty and feeling without a sign of preaching. I liked especially that the author’s beautifully presented straightforwardness did much to avoid encouraging inappropriate guilt that gets in the way of real understanding.

And the book does reveal space for change. I was especially impressed with the alternative tours of Jefferson’s home. Several years ago when I visited there was only one available tour. We were exposed to the fact of Sally Hemmings and her family as well as the burial area where the Hemmings descendents were seeking permission to be included. We even had a brief look at where the slave cabins would have been. We also learned of Jefferson’s purchasing of goods from Europe at a time when they were being boycotted. Certainly an indication that our founding father was not a beacon of perfection. (A man, after all. Not a god delivering messages from heaven.) But the author was on a tour that focused on Jefferson’s intimate connection with slavery. The very fact that tour was offered is a mark of progress, of opening up to truth, as were many of his stops.

The author took us as well to other sites where the truth was being emphasized. I liked his attitude; I liked his choice of places to visit. I liked his mode of presentation. I suspect that many who chose to read it came away not only with deeper knowledge, but also with more emotional commitment.


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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