After protestors from Charlottesville and the University of Virginia (UVA) covered a statue of Thomas Jefferson on the UVA grounds and held signs calling the main author of the Declaration of Independence a "racist + rapist," UVA President Teresa A. Sullivan issued a statement saying she strongly disagreed with covering the statue, noted that Jefferson had been a slave owner in the 18th century, and that the school was taking steps to address its own controversial history.
"I strongly disagree with the protestors' decision to cover the Jefferson statue," said Sullivan in her statement sent to parents of UVA students. "I also recognize the rights of those present at the protest to express their emotions and opinions regarding the recent horrific events that occurred on our Grounds and in Charlottesville."
Sullivan then noted that Jefferson, the founder of the University of Virginia, "made many contributions to the progress of the early American Republic," including being the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, a "champion of religious freedom," and the third president of the United States.
Statue of Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and the third president of the
United States, north of the rotunda at the University of Virginia. (Photo: c-ville.com)
Sullivan also noted that Jefferson was a slave owner and that many of UVA's buildings were erected by slave labor.
To, in part, make amends for UVA's past, President Sullivan said she, in 2013, had formed the "President's Commission on Slavery and the University to explore UVA's relationship to slavery and enslaved people and to make recommendations for steps UVA can take in response to this history."
The school also has approved the construction of a Memorial to Enslaved Laborers. Further, the university is planning to "formally dedicate Pinn Hall in honor of Vivian W. Pinn, M.D., one of the earliest African-American women to graduate from the School of Medicine."
"There is more work to be done," said President Sullivan, "and I look forward to members of our community coming together and recommitting to our foundational values of honor, integrity, trust and respect."
The University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, was founded by Jefferson in 1819. Its original governing Board of Visitors included Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe.
Some of its alumni include eight NASA astronauts and launch directors, eight Pulitzer Prize winners, 53 Rhodes Scholars, three Supreme Court justices, and 28 U.S. governors.
Rita Dove, Commonwealth
Professor at UVA, and
former Poet Laureate of
the United States. (UVA)
UVA English Professor Rita Dove served as Poet Laureate Consultant to the Library of Congress from 1993 to 1995. She was the first African-American appointed to that position. She also was the second African-American to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, in 1987, and she served as the Poet Laureate of Virginia from 2004 to 2006.