As much as I admire Thomas Jefferson for his many exemplary accomplishments, he must also be acknowledged for his horrific malfeasance. As Jefferson himself knew, the owning of human beings as slaves was simply abhorrent. To describe telling this story as “political correctness” is silly and wrong; this is what happened, and we have a duty to tell the truth, especially in this era when truthfulness does not appear to be an honored value.
As has often been said, “the truth hurts.” Perhaps Monticello and other such places should have “trigger warning” signs telling people: “We will be telling the truth about what happened here. If you might be offended by the truth, you might not want to go on this tour.”
As a former employee of Colonial Williamsburg, I, too, felt that the addition of interpreters and reenactors was dramatic and sometimes controversial. Stephen Seals,
who portrayed James Armistead Lafayette, a black spy during the final stages of the American Revolution in Virginia, won me over. Mr. Seals resurrects this fascinating, educated black man and reveals to his audiences Lafayette’s role during the war. Mr. Seals is more than an actor; he is a historian. He paints an honest and knowledgeable picture of the past.
I worked in a craft shop while a student at the College of William & Mary in the late 1960s and early 1970s. There was a black journeyman in our shop, but that was a rarity. Most costumed black employees tended the oxen, drove the wagons, tended the gardens and staffed the kitchens. They did not speak about slavery, nor did the white employees. Back then, Colonial Williamsburg had company housing for those employees who desired it. Franklin House was for black employees, and the Imperial Club was for white employees.
Colonial Williamsburg has come a long way since, as have Monticello, Montpelier and other historic sites. Visitors should listen to the black interpreters because it is impossible to know the history of the South or the formative United States without learning about the important role slavery and slaves played in that history.
Edward McManus, Washington