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‘Woke’ Tour Guides Now Mangle History at Monticello

‘Woke’ Tour Guides Now Mangle History at Monticello

The evil that men do lives after them;

The good is oft interred with their bones;

So let it be with Caesar.

Substitute “Jefferson” for “Caesar” in Marc Anthony’s funeral speech, and you have a tidy summation of the guided “woke” tours at Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello.

On July 5th—the day after our nation once again celebrated the Declaration of Independence, that key document in America’s history which was largely authored by Jefferson—my daughter, her husband, and their children traveled south from my home to Charlottesville, VA to visit Monticello. All of them thoroughly enjoyed seeing the house and the gardens, but the adults and the three teens in this crew all returned home complaining about the tour. Their guide, whom they described as “woke,” spent more time discussing Monticello’s slaves and Jefferson’s shame as their owner than he did the man himself.

Less than a week later, as if to confirm their impressions, two articles appeared online describing this same scenario.

The disappointment of visiting tourists is described by Mary Kay Linge and Jon Levine in the New York Post. The tours are conducted by guides who constantly drop disparaging remarks about Jefferson, while the paintings and signs added to the house and gift shop condemn Jefferson as a slave owner. Some of this emphasis amounts to nothing more than propaganda. A placard on a part of the outside tour, for example, reads, “Is ‘all men are created equal’ being lived up to in our country today?” and then explains that it is not, going on to ask, “When will we know when it is?”

Robert Spencer references the Post article in a PJ Media article, but adds this interesting impression left by a Monticello visitor on Facebook:

Visited a few years ago and had a great experience and got to learn a lot about Thomas Jefferson. This time every video slandered his name and the entire focus was on his mistress. Very disappointing and shocking to see how they are trying to rewrite history to make it seem like the founding fathers were terrible immoral creatures that happened to start a country.

At a 1962 gathering at the White House to honor Nobel Prize winners of the Western Hemisphere, President John F. Kennedy famously remarked:

I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.

Someone once said that Thomas Jefferson was a gentleman of 32 who could calculate an eclipse, survey an estate, tie an artery, plan an edifice, try a cause, break a horse, and dance the minuet.

In light of these remarks and the massive impact of Jefferson on the history of the United States, these guides and their supervisors with their videos and signboards deserve the contempt of every tourist to Monticello for their unbalanced narratives. Visitors come to Jefferson’s house to marvel at its design, to honor the man who wrote the Declaration, and to learn more about his story: governor of Virginia during several years of the Revolution, America’s first Secretary of State, vice president during the John Adams’ administration, and third president of the United States.

Do these tour guides mention that Jefferson was tormented all his life by slavery, torn by the knowledge that it was wrong yet unable to give up the lifestyle it afforded him? Jefferson himself documented this struggle in writing. Do they mention that in the initial draft of the Declaration Jefferson condemned the international slave trade, a section that aroused fierce debate and was then discarded? Do they tell their listeners that during his presidency he campaigned successfully to have the Congress abolish this trade?

Do the guides tell the story of Martin Hemmings, one of Jefferson’s slaves? After Jefferson fled Monticello in June, 1781, just minutes ahead of British cavalry eager to capture him, an officer pointed a gun at Hemmings and threatened to shoot him if he refused to reveal the whereabouts of his master. “Fire away, then,” said Hemmings. He was left unharmed, but surely his loyal response underlines a more complicated relationship between master and slave than the one presented as valid history at Monticello.

These guides make a sad spectacle of themselves when they deliver their spiels with neither nuance nor respect. The great majority of their audience knows that Jefferson owned slaves. They also know him as one of the great figures of our history. They’re able to hold both these ideas in mind at the same time.

Apparently, those who now control the tours at Monticello lack that ability. Like so many others spouting off lopsided views of the past, these so-called guides strike many visitors at best as ill-informed bigots, at worst as ignorant blockheads.

Image Credit: Flickr-Arthur T. Labar, CC BY-NC 2.0

Jeff Minick
Jeff Minick

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    July 16, 2022, 3:11 pm

    It is the same at Colonial Williamsburg

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    July 18, 2022, 3:16 am

    I am a University of Virginia(Jefferson founded) engineering graduate and admit I did not look into Jefferson’s life much during my college years. However, 40 years later, with the rage of the Hamilton play happening I decided to read the Ron Chernow Alexander Hamilton book that inspired the play. Based on this book and seeing how Jefferson acted, he was basically a spoiled rich white man. We are lucky that Washington/Hamilton prevailed during our governments beginning, as Jefferson was a man of few accomplishments. You should give the Chernow book a read and you might change this article’s premise. I equate Jefferson to the confederacy at this point. Robert E. Lee and Jefferson are basically the same type of plantation owner and Lee is now a bad footnote in history. Jefferson should really be the same. I would never go visit Monticello at this point, so the foundation presenting a negative view of Jefferson seems fit. I think UVA should do the same.

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      July 19, 2022, 3:35 pm

      Tom, I am glad that in this country we have the freedoms ( mostly given to us by men like Jefferson) where ignorant, and biased idiots such as yourself, can express their opinions, which is protected by these "slave owners", clauses in our Bill of Rights.
      By the way: do you really believe that these slaves would have had a better life in Africa?.
      Sometimes the lesser of two evils is the only possibility.

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      July 20, 2022, 12:23 am

      "Jefferson was a man of few accomplishments" (???) He abolished the Atlantic Slave Trade as president before Great Britain and was able to block the expansion of slavery into northwest America! If it wasn’t for Thomas Jefferson, slavery would have flourished into Ohio and beyond!

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        July 29, 2022, 3:52 am

        "Jefferson was a man of few accomplishments" The man did not even fight in the revolutionary war. He supported the French Revolution and thought the loss of life was necessary. Washington was the only one who freed his slaves on his death. No other revolutionary person owning slaves did this. He wanted to send blacks back to Africa or other places. He thought blacks were inferior human beings. Basically, all the presidents after Washington who owned slaves were responsible for the start of the Civil War.

        "Sometimes the lesser of two evils is the only possibility." Over 100 years of black suppression until the Civil Rights Act is the lesser of two evils? Our country could have done better and should have. Benjamin Franklin had it right, but no one listened to him.

        "If it wasn’t for Thomas Jefferson, slavery would have flourished into Ohio and beyond!" But he did not give up his slaves did he? And it was fine to have sex and children with them.
        There is a reason many institutions are removing his statue around the country. You cannot give him a pass because he could write "All men are created equal".

        I admit I am not a historian, but just reading the Hamilton book was enough to see that Jefferson was a very flawed man and his accomplishments over his lifetime do not negate his views on slavery and his actual holding of slaves. He was against a monarchy in the beginning of our country but in reality he was the king of his plantation.

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          Harold Daniels@Tom
          August 29, 2022, 5:00 pm

          Actually, if you learned history, the start of the Civil War was due to South Carolina wishing to secede from the Union. As the agreement to consolidate the individual colonies into the "United States" could not be ratified until a clause was included giving each colony (state) the right to secede. The start of the Civil War was, in fact, illegal. Slavery was a secondary issue, not the primary cause of the hostilities.

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    […] ‘Woke’ Tour Guides Now Mangle History at Monticello. […]

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    […] instruction in history tends to emphasize every wart and flaw in historical figures such as Thomas Jefferson or Robert E. Lee. While Franklin encouraged us to look at both the good and bad in the character of […]


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