". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13

Commentary

Woke History at Monticello

July 13, 2022

Not to be outdone by big business and America’s public schools, significant historical sites are now joining the woke parade.

Recent visitors to Thomas Jefferson’s former home Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia have reported that the famous historical site has gone woke.

According to Monticello spokesperson Jenn Lyon, the goal is to “present an honest, inclusive history of Monticello in all its aspects as well as Jefferson’s contributions to the founding of the country.” However, recent visitors to the Founding Father’s famous home report that Monticello tour guides take anything but an objective approach, with staff members going “out of their way to belittle Jefferson” and gloss over his accomplishments.

While many historians have argued for years that our presentation of American history needs to be more balanced in how we talk about slavery, Monticello has applied a specifically Marxist lens to Thomas Jefferson and the era of America’s founding, from the visitor center to the merchandise — and everything in between. Books by critical race theory proponents Ibram X. Kendi and Ta-Nehisi Coates are sold in Monticello’s gift shop and conversational placards with leading questions are strategically placed around one of the property’s patios.

In addition to glorifying critical race theory, Monticello has gone out of its way to inject every room of Jefferson’s estate with something to remind visitors of the fact that Jefferson was a slaveowner, almost to excess. Contemporary postmodern paintings have been added to otherwise historically appropriate rooms, undermining tourists’ ability to see how Monticello would have looked like while Thomas Jefferson lived there.

While the desire to honestly discuss Jefferson’s participation in the institution of slavery and recognize his faults is good, this can be done without endorsing critical race theory or completely negating the many accomplishments and positive impact he had as one of our most influential Founders.

In our country’s formative years, Jefferson was the key drafter of the Declaration of Independence, helped America’s international standing as an ambassador to France, founded the University of Virginia, and served as the first secretary of State, the second vice president, and the third President of the United States. Arguably, the continued existence and success of the United States’ form of government would not have been possible without Jefferson’s influence.

When it comes to all of our nation’s forefathers, we can honor the positive contributions they made without worshipping them or endorsing every single thing the person thought, said, or did. The ideals that Jefferson and our other Founders articulated in our nation’s founding documents, including that “all men are created equal,” were objectively true, despite their own failure to live up to them. As many Christians often say, “all truth is God’s truth” even if this truth sometimes comes from imperfect and sinful mouthpieces.

In fact, the failures, faults, and sins of Jefferson and our other Founders help reaffirm a biblical worldview. They remind us of what God’s word repeatedly tells us, that human beings are inherently sinful and that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

While Monticello should present an accurate historical picture of Thomas Jefferson, they should do so in a balanced way that doesn’t overemphasize the bad at the expense of the good, or vice versa. In a world that increasingly rejects the idea of objective truth and believes that truth is subjective and in the “eye of the beholder,” we must continue to present all the historical facts, lest we lose the full picture of the past.

As the famous saying goes, “history repeats itself.” If we emphasize only the good or the bad and don’t present them both, we risk making mistakes or unwise decisions in the future based on incomplete historical information.

Clearly, we’ve made great progress in learning lessons from our Founders’ accomplishments and faults. Since the days of Thomas Jefferson, we have eradicated the institution of slavery and have desegregated our society. Hopefully the lens of cultural Marxism that is now being applied to people like Jefferson at Monticello, doesn’t move us to injustice in the future as it seeks to wipe any positive impact Jefferson made from the historical record.

Claire Gatzke is a Development Operations Associate at Family Research Council.