Pete Buttigieg wants Thomas Jefferson events renamed: 'Racism isn't some curiosity out of the past'

2020 candidate says changing title of his party’s annual dinners ‘the right thing to do’

Adam Forrest
Sunday 19 May 2019 12:37 BST
Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend in Indiana
Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend in Indiana

Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg has said events named after US founding father Thomas Jefferson should be renamed because he was a slave owner.

The 2020 candidate said changing the title of his party’s annual dinner events – designated in honour of presidents Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson – was “the right thing to do”.

Speaking on a nationally syndicated radio show, Mr Buttigieg was asked whether the Democrats’ Jefferson-Jackson dinners be renamed across the US because both were holders of slaves.

“Yeah, we’re doing that in Indiana. I think it’s the right thing to do,” Mr Buttigieg told The Hugh Hewitt Show, referring to his home state.

“Over time, you develop and evolve on the things you choose to honour,” he said, before saying he thought Jefferson’s legacy was particularly “problematic”.

One of the founders of the Democratic party, the third US president was a Virginia plantation owner and is believed to have owned more than 600 slaves during his lifetime. Yet Jefferson also condemned the practice as a “moral depravity”.

“There’s a lot of course to admire in his thinking and his philosophy,” said Mr Buttigieg. “Then again if you plunge into his writings, especially the Notes on the State of Virginia, you know that he knew slavery was wrong – and yet he did it.”

The South Bend mayor insisted the renaming of events was not about “blotting him out of the history books or deleting him from being [one of] the founding fathers”, but was a question of which things you decided to honour.

Thomas Jefferson (1743 - 1826), the 3rd President of the United States

“The real reason I think there is a lot of pressure on this is the relationship between the past and present that we’re finding in a million different ways that racism isn’t some curiosity out of the past that we’re embarrassed about but moved on from,” the Democrat added.

“It’s alive, it’s well, it’s hurting people and it’s one of the main reasons to be in politics today is to try to change or reverse the harms that went along with that. We better look for ways to live out and honour that principle.”

Democratic party organisers in several states, including Georgia, Connecticut and Missouri, have removed the names of Jefferson and Jackson from their annual fundraising dinners – informally known as “JJs” – in recent years.

Jackson, the seventh US president, signed the Indian Removal Act which forcibly relocated Native Americans – a dispossession between 1830 and 1850 known as the Trail of Tears.

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