‘Non-negotiable’: Jefferson statue to stay, not part of contextualization task force recommendation

The task force cannot recommend removal of the statue but must consider Jefferson’s “seminal accomplishments and his history as a slave owner.”
Post-it notes cover MU's Thomas Jefferson statue, which sits on Francis Quadrangle. Maneater file photo

The University of Missouri’s controversial Thomas Jefferson statue and tombstone won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

As the university’s “Taskforce for Contextualization of Thomas Jefferson” prepares to deliver a recommendation regarding the statue to the UM System Board of Curators, there’s been one guideline from the start:

“To be clear, the decision for the statue to remain on Francis Quadrangle will not be reversed,” an introductory email sent to the task force on Aug. 3 by UM System President and MU Chancellor Mun Choi reads.

That email, provided to The Maneater following a request to MU, instructs members to “approach making recommendations with the recognition that removal of the statue is non-negotiable.”

Through “active listening” and “empathy for opposing views,” the guiding principles outlined in the email ask members to “apply our core values of respect, responsibility, discovery and excellence in creating spaces for difficult dialogue and seeking resolution.”

Members are also “to determine substantial ways we can fully contextualize Jefferson — his seminal accomplishments and his history as a slave owner.”

There’s a divide, though, among task force members regarding what contextualization means, a source familiar with proceedings told The Maneater. Some members feel it’s necessary to explain MU’s ties with Jefferson, others prefer to contextualize Jefferson’s status as a slaveholder and rapist.

All task force members, with the exception of two curators and a staff member, are in favor of condemning Jefferson’s attitudes and actions, the source speculated.

The Maneater previously published a list of the task force’s members.

The task force’s recommendation to the Board of Curators is due Jan. 15, and the group is to consult with the “MU History Working Group,” which started in the fall of 2018.

The History Working Group “is developing ideas and recommendations to acknowledge and honor laborers and enslaved people who built Mizzou,” according to its online description. The group’s members, published online, overlaps with the contextualization task force.

It’s not clear how much communication or consultation there has been between the two committees.

The Jefferson statue and accompanying tombstone have been the target of demands from student activist groups including Mizzou is Still Concerned, Mizzou 600 and others. The Board of Curators has previously clarified that only it has the ability to move the statue.

Jefferson’s tombstone arrived at MU in 1885. The Jefferson Club purchased the statue for $45,000 in 2001.

With the statue and tombstone under renewed scrutiny this summer, MU added prominent security equipment and a $20,000 casing.

Find The Maneater’s previous reporting on the task force here.

Edited by Caitlin Danborn | cdanborn@themaneater.com

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