Amid the debate over Confederate statues, Georgia Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp suggested a similar controversy is brewing over the Founding Fathers.
For us fact-checkers, the key question is whether there is a cry to get rid of statues of Washington and Jefferson.
A few people have said that, but whether there’s much of a drive is less certain.
Between emailing the Kemp campaign and our own searches, we came up with some key instances.
The clearest example came from Angela Rye, a CNN commentator and former Congressional Black Caucus director.
Rye said on CNN on Aug. 17, “We need to call slave owners out for what they are … To me, I don’t care if it’s a George Washington statue or a Thomas Jefferson statue or a Robert E. Lee statue, they all need to come down.”
An equally clear call for taking down a statue of Washington came from James Dukes, pastor of Liberation Christian Center in Chicago. After President Donald Trump asked rhetorically if statues of Washington and Jefferson were next on the list for removal after Confederate leaders, Dukes asked Mayor Rahm Emanuel to take down a statue of George Washington and rename the park where it stands.
The activist Al Sharpton entered the fray on PBS’ Charlie Rose show when Rose asked him if the Jefferson Memorial should be taken down.
“My great-grandfather was a slave owned by the family that Strom Thurmond was one of them,” Sharpton said Aug. 14. “So this is personal. This is not some kind of removed discussion for us. Our families were victims of this. Certainly, it ought to be removed.”
Some people have expressed dismay at the slave-owning pasts of Washington and Jefferson without calling for removing statues. We mention them because some have put them in the same bucket as the previous examples.
Wilbert Cooper, a senior editor at the news service Vice, wrote Aug. 17 that if there were ever a serious push to to blow up Mount Rushmore, “I suspect I’d be on board. As long as we allow those men to be cults of personality who exist beyond reproach, we’re never going to be able to see them for all of their good and all of their evil,” Cooper wrote.
A number of University of Virginia student organizations issued a list of demands to keep the history of slavery front and center on campus. The list included that “the statue of Jefferson serves as an emblem of white supremacy and should be re-contextualized with a plaque to include that history.”
At some point over the weekend of Aug. 19, the Jefferson statue on the University of Virginia campus was splashed with red paint.
We have two clear cases of African-Americans saying statues of Washington should come down, and one case involving the Jefferson Memorial.
For context, we compared this to the interest in removing Confederate statues. As an approximate measure, we turned to the Nexis database of articles in major newspapers.
Between Aug. 11 and Aug. 22 (the day before Kemp’s email), there were 2,113 articles that mentioned removing Confederate statues, but made no mention of George Washington or Thomas Jefferson.
In the same period, 183 articles mentioned removing Washington or Jefferson statues. This included Trump’s own reference to people seeking to take down those statues.
Roughly speaking, the removal of Confederate statues is at least 11 times more commonly mentioned than taking down statues of Washington or Jefferson.
We found two instances where two people unambiguously called for those statues to come down, plus another instance where an interviewer’s question elicited a reply that included the words “certainly it ought to be removed.” There is scant evidence of a broader movement to take down statues of Washington and Jefferson.
The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details. We rate this claim Half True.
“Our conservative Georgia values are under attack” … (People) are “calling for the removal of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson statues.”
— Brian Kemp on Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017 in a campaign email