Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson are out. Too much racial baggage.
Harry S. Truman is in. So are others to be named later.
The latest wave of discarding symbols of America’s unpleasant racial history has hit the Jefferson-Jackson dinner circuit. State Democratic parties for years have routinely used such events named for the party icons to raise big money and attract big names. They’re often been known as Jefferson-Jackson dinners in honor of the former presidents.
A month ago, Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton keynoted Virginia’s Jefferson-Jackson dinner. The state party boasted afterward that the dinner “smashed records for the most successful Jefferson-Jackson event in history.”
$1 million plusAmount raised at last month’s Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Virginia, keynoted by Hillary Clinton.
There’ll be no Jefferson-Jackson events in Connecticut, Georgia, Missouri or Florida, as parties move to shed close identification with Jefferson, one of the nation’s Founding Fathers and author of the Declaration of Independence, and Jackson. “Jacksonian democracy” has long been regarded as empowering ordinary citizens.
Some of the changes have been in the works for some time. Florida Democrats began calling their gala “Leadership Blue” last year. Missouri Democrats’ state committee unanimously decided to change the name to the Harry S. Truman dinner this year.
We renamed the Missouri Democratic Party’s annual fundraiser to honor the powerful legacy left by Missouri's native son, President Harry S. Truman.
Crystal Brinkley, the party’s executive director
Georgia Democrats have dropped the Jefferson-Jackson moniker, though no name has yet been chosen, and this week Connecticut Democrats stripped their dinner of the two presidents’ names.
“This is not meant to be an indictment of Thomas Jefferson’s legacy. It’s just meant to be an effort by Connecticut Democrats to look in the mirror and make sure our biggest annual event reflects values we hold dear,” explained party spokesman Leigh Appleby.
Jefferson and Jackson were slave owners. Jackson presided over the Trail of Tears, which forcibly removed Native American nations from their ancestral homes in the Southeast.
The move by the party of Jefferson and Jackson away from those two names is in some cases the latest in a series of changes since a white gunman killed nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., last month.
Suspect Dylann Root embraced the Confederate flag, using it as a symbol of racism. Many officials across the South moved quickly to remove the flag from government spaces, license plates and other public venues.
Officials have been struggling with how far to go in ridding public places of symbols of the country’s racist past, and Democrats, who have attracted large blocs of votes from blacks for years, want to show more sensitivity.
Earlier this week, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy wrote to party leaders, “We are proud to belong to a party that is committed to justice and equality. And we both believe that the name of our party’s biggest annual event should reflect that commitment.”
The state central committee, the party’s governing board, agreed. It unanimously passed a resolution Wednesday night saying that “it is only fitting that the name of the party’s most visible annual event reflects our dedication to diversity and forward-looking vision.”
Connecticut Democrats have not chosen a new name but want something that reflects the party’s inclusiveness.
Republicans scoffed at the Democrats’ actions. “We don’t have to deal with this,” said J.R. Romano, the Connecticut Republican chairman, noting his party’s dinners honor former Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan and former U.S. Sen. Prescott Bush of Connecticut, the father and grandfather of presidents.
The question for Democrats, and all public officials, is how far they should go. Is anyone talking about tearing down the Jefferson Memorial in Washington?
“It’s extraordinary Democrats would go this far,” said Gary Rose, a professor of politics at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn. “It’s political correctness run amok.”