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National Archives racism task force says building with founding documents displays structural racism, slams Thomas Jefferson

The National Archives Rotunda, the place where America’s founding documents are prominently displayed in Washington, D.C., is yet another example of “systemic racism,” according to a new report.

Amid racial unrest last summer, Archivist of the United States David S. Ferrier established a racism task force at the National Archives and Records Administration.

To little fanfare, the agency publicly released their report this month, claiming the NARA and the National Archives is dripping with “structural racism,” from its employees to the very display of America’s most sacred documents.

The National Archives Rotunda. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Despite housing documents like the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution, the report claimed the National Archives Rotunda “lauds wealthy White men in the nation’s founding while marginalizing BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and other People of Color], women, and other communities.”

To fix the displays of “structural racism,” the report suggested ways to “reimagine the Rotunda” to “create a more inclusive and historically accurate tribute to the nation’s founding.” One such suggestion is “to stage dance or performance art in the space that invites dialogue about the ways that the United States has mythologized the founding era.”

The report also suggests displaying “trigger warnings” on certain documents and exhibits to “forewarn audiences of content that may cause intense physiological and psychological symptoms,” in addition to advising “the creation of safe spaces in every NARA facility.”

The report even took aims at specific founding fathers, including Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence, specifically citing how Jefferson is described in online databases managed by the NARA.

The report said:

OurDocuments.gov features transcripts and historical context of “100 milestone documents of
American history” but often uses adulatory and excessive language to document the historical
contributions of White, wealthy men. For example, a search of Thomas Jefferson in OurDocuments.gov
brings up 24 results. He is described in this sample lesson plan as a “visionary” who took “vigorous
action” to strengthen the “will of the nation to expand westward.” The plan does not mention that his
policy of westward expansion forced Native Americans off their ancestral land, encouraged ongoing
colonial violence, and laid the groundwork for further atrocities like the Trail of Tears.

“As the home of this nation’s founding documents–the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights–we have a special responsibility to the ideals that all people are created equal, that all people have equal protection under the law, and that there is a common good that includes us all,” Ferriero said in a statement.

“Although we as a nation have fallen short at times, these are the goals we aspire to as Americans, for all Americans, and the ideals that drove the work of the task force,” he added.

Ferriero has been the U.S. archivist since 2009 when he was appointed by then-President Barack Obama.

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