Outside Portland’s Jefferson High School, its statue of Thomas Jefferson lies on the ground beside its pedestal, which is spray-painted with the words SLAVE OWNER and the name of George Floyd.
Jefferson, the third President, was indeed a slave owner, as well as being the author of the Declaration of Independence – the man who declared it to be “self-evident… that all men are created equal.” That contradiction at the heart of his biography (and at the heart of the country’s history) was apparently too much for some group of demonstrators.
Earlier in the evening, KOIN-TV filmed a Rose City Justice gathering beside the statue to begin a march, at which point the pedestal was already spray-painted. Sometime after the march, a group decided to topple the statue.
In recent years, statues and other monuments associated with slavery have been called into question. Criticism has been mainly directed at statues of Confederate leaders, which were raised more as emblems of white supremacy in the 20th Century than to commemorate a war in the 19th Century – but slave owners like Jefferson, George Washington and Christopher Columbus have also faced scrutiny. Some monuments have been destroyed by vandals, while others have been removed through government action. Often, damage or tagging by protesters has been ratified by state or local governments which ordered the monuments removed.
Before the fall of the Jefferson statue in Portland, symbolic statues on the University of Oregon campus in Eugene known as the Pioneer Man and the Pioneer Mother, representing early Oregon settlers, had earlier been knocked down by protesters, according to a statement from the University. Presumably, demonstrators objected to the false depiction of Oregon pioneers as being only Caucasians, excluding African Americans, Asians, Pacific Islanders and Native Americans who also inhabited the Oregon Country before statehood.
By John M. Burt