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UVA President Criticizes Jefferson Statue Shrouding

Thursday Sep 14, 2017
Protesters cover a statue of Thomas Jefferson with black tarp and hold signs up in front of the Rotunda at the University of Virginia for the one month anniversary of the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017
Protesters cover a statue of Thomas Jefferson with black tarp and hold signs up in front of the Rotunda at the University of Virginia for the one month anniversary of the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017  (Source:Zack Wajsgras/The Daily Progress via AP)

Protesters who draped a black shroud over a statue of Thomas Jefferson at the University of Virginia were "desecrating" ground many people consider "sacred," the president of the Charlottesville college said Wednesday.

UVA President Teresa Sullivan sent separate statements to the university community and to alumni after dozens of protesters gathered on campus Tuesday night to protest the university's response to white nationalist rallies this summer.

The demonstrators covered the statue of Jefferson, the third president of the United States and UVA's founder, and put up signs that called him a "rapist" and "racist," The Daily Progress reported .

The statue stands in front of the Rotunda, which Jefferson designed and where white nationalists carrying tiki torches clashed with counter-demonstrators just over a month ago. That march on campus was followed the next day by a larger rally in downtown Charlottesville that descended into violence.

Sullivan said she strongly disagreed with the demonstrators' decision to shroud the statue, writing in the statement sent to alumni that they were "desecrating" ground that "many of us consider sacred." One person was arrested for public intoxication and the shroud has since been removed, she said.

She wrote that Jefferson was a slave owner and that the university was dependent on slavery in its early years. Many historians also say Jefferson likely fathered six children with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings.

But Sullivan said Jefferson also "made many contributions to the progress of the early American Republic: he served as the third President of the United States, championed religious freedom, and authored the Declaration of Independence."

The demonstrators called Tuesday night for the university to meet demands issued by the Black Student Alliance after the white nationalist rallies. They include the removal of Confederate plaques on the Rotunda and adding context to the Jefferson statue.

Sullivan said in her statement to students, faculty and staff that the university has "acknowledged its controversial history," though there is "more work to be done."

A group of university leaders is reviewing UVA's response to the August rallies, and the college has also hired an outside firm to conduct a separate review.

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