Lucian Truscott, who is white, is a sixth-generation descendant of Jefferson, and Shannon LaNier, who’s black, is a ninth-generation descendant of the former president and Sally Hemings, one of his slaves, CNN reported.
“I think a lot of these public statues were put in place for the wrong reasons and to glorify people who were flawed. We have to start looking at these people as human beings, not gods, not idols,” LaNier told the network Tuesday.
In response to the recent removal of monuments by activists across the US, President Trump has signed an executive order for the creation of a “National Garden” of statues, including one of Jefferson.
The former president owned hundreds of slaves during his lifetime but is remembered for famously writing: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
“He said one thing, but he didn’t practice that thing,” LaNier told CNN. “People have been giving him a pass for years because he helped found this country, but he also helped do it on the backs of slaves, whether that was their blood sweat and tears that they had to put in to do it.”
Truscott said he grew up playing at Monticello, Jefferson’s home in Virginia, which he argued is a much more fitting tribute to his ancestor.
“If you visit Monticello now, you’ll take a tour and learn as much about slave life at Monticello as you do about Jefferson himself,” Truscott told CNN. “I think that it gives a picture of Jefferson in full with his flaws and his greatness intact.”
Truscott suggested replacing the Jefferson Memorial with a tribute to Harriet Tubman the leader of the Underground Railroad whom he described as one of America’s “founding mothers.”
“I think we’ve paid enough attention to the founding fathers over the years and it’s time to celebrate some of the women that helped found this country,” he said.
“I describe Harriet Tubman as helping to found the America that came along after slavery,” Truscott added.
LaNier said the Jefferson Memorial also could be replaced with a symbol of unity.
“We’re not erasing history, we’re teaching the full story of what is and what these people did to and for our country,” he said.