Virginia City Will Celebrate the End of Slavery as an Official Holiday Instead of Thomas Jefferson’s Birthday
Alaa Elassar, CNN, March 3, 2020
For the first time since World War II, the city where Thomas Jefferson once called home is no longer considering his birthday an official holiday.
Instead, the city of Charlottesville, Virginia, has replaced celebrating Jefferson’s birthday with a new holiday — Liberation and Freedom Day — to mark the beginning of emancipation for 14,000 enslaved residents.
On March 3, Charlottesville commemorates the day Union troops arrived in 1865 at the end of the Civil War when city officials surrendered and the slaves were freed.
While Liberation and Freedom Day has been celebrated since 2017 when the Charlottesville City Council declared it a holiday, this is the first year Jefferson’s birthday on April 13 will not be officially celebrated. Councilors voted 4-1 to remove his birthday as a holiday in June 2019.
The city celebrates Liberation and Freedom Day from March 1-8, with a week-long schedule of events ranging from vigils and community dinners to concerts and panel discussions.
“We’re not going to forget Mr. Jefferson. His name adorns streets, parks, endowed chairs at the university, lecture halls and he’s just all over the place,” Jalane Schmidt, a University of Virginia professor and one of the event organizers, told CNN. “But we prioritize the emancipation of slaves over his birthday.”
Another reason the decision to replace Jefferson’s birthday with Liberation and Freedom Day is to correct the way Charlottesville is narrating its history, according to Schmidt, the professor and event organizer.
“The history of the Civil War is being suppressed in Charlottesville. With all the confederate statues and monuments everywhere you would think the confederates won, but they didn’t,” Schmidt said. “We need to tell the real story instead of these monuments lying about our history. We need to celebrate freedom and liberation.”
During the Civil War, over 50 percent of the city’s entire population was enslaved. While the spirits of Thomas Jefferson and other confederate leaders will always remain in Charlottesville, today — and now forever — they will not be the only ones remembered.