Thomas Jefferson’s Hometown Replaces Holiday Celebrating His Birthday

By Zachary Stieber

The birthplace of Founding Father Thomas Jefferson will no longer celebrate his birthday with an official holiday.

The holiday was replaced by a day recognizing the emancipation of enslaved African-Americans.

Charlottesville’s City Council replaced the holiday with a vote on July 1.

The new holiday will be called Liberation and Freedom Day and held on March 3 every year.

Jefferson, the third president of the United States, was a slaveholder who made a number of moves to end the nation’s use of slavery.

The vote to remove the holiday was 4-1. The vote to add the new holiday was 5-0.

Official Presidential portrait of Thomas Jefferson
Official Presidential portrait of Thomas Jefferson. (public domain)

Kathy Galvin, the lone vote against removing the holiday, said before that removing the day celebrating Jefferson did not erase him from history.

“It also is important to think about what Thomas Jefferson has done,” Galvin said at a June 21 meeting, reported the Charlottesville Tomorrow blog. “I find it somewhat ironic, at this point in time, that the founding father who gave us the ability to question our holiday schedule is now not going to be able to be acknowledged for the establishment of that act.”

Wes Bellamy, another member, said there were too many holidays for Jefferson and that Galvin’s fear of forgetting Jefferson’s attendant history wouldn’t become reality.

“There is literally no way in this city in which you will not be able to acknowledge or forget about Thomas Jefferson,” Bellamy said. “That doesn’t mean that we, as a city, have to celebrate, commemorate or acknowledge him with a day.”

Several speakers told the council before the vote that they supported the change.

Lisa Woolfork, an associate professor at the University of Virginia, decried Jefferson’s treatment of his slaves, saying: “Thomas Jefferson is the R. Kelly of the American Enlightenment.”

“Their non-consensual sexual relationship was normalized by the brutality of the age,” she added, referring to Jefferson’s contact with his slave Sally Hemings, reported the Daily Progress.

Scott Wawner spoke against removing the holiday, saying he wanted to “defend the honor” of Jefferson. He said Jefferson had a number of accomplishments in founding the country.

“With all of these incredible accomplishments,” he said, “it is inconceivable that this city not recognize his birthday.”

The new holiday celebrates March 3, 1865, Hawes Spencer, a longtime Charlottesville reporter and resident, told WTOP.

“[It] commemorates that day in 1865 when Gen. Philip Sheridan’s troops rolled through town and found a population that was majority African American—and although emancipation for most of them probably didn’t occur on that day, it was the opening salvo for a lot of Charlottesvillians’ freedom,” he said.

A bust of President Thomas Jefferson at the Jefferson Hotel in Washington, D.C., on July 7, 2018. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

Nearby Albermarle County’s Board of Supervisors voted to remove Jefferson’s birthday as an official holiday in mid-June, replacing it with a floating holiday.

“This does not prevent the county from taking appropriate measures to recognize Thomas Jefferson’s contributions to the community,” County Executive Jeff Richardson said, reported the Progress.

Officials said customer service issues prompted the change. Most of the county’s human resource staff are employees of the school division, and schools don’t recognize Jefferson’s birthday as a holiday.

The decision also had detractors, including Craig Decker, who said it diminishes Jefferson’s legacy.

“I think this is a significant decision that many people aren’t thinking about the ramifications and I would hope that before eliminating it you would at least provide time for more input,” he said. “You should at least get the staff to look at what the impacts of this might be, and unforeseen ones, like the removing of the statue, we saw how many unforeseen impacts that had.”