Bill Moyers Marks July 4 By Repeating Myth That Jefferson Sired Children With His Slaves

It's somehow not enough that longtime PBS omnipresence Bill Moyers has to join his fellow leftists in denouncing America's origins for Independence Day. But the supposedly probing journalist descended to spreading the historical myth that Thomas Jefferson sired slave children with Sally Hemings.

He hasn't read the books of Jefferson scholars denouncing these tales as "An American Travesty"? Moyers also scooped this refuse on his latest PBS show Moyers & Company.

On Alternet, the Moyers column was titled "Celebrating An Unfinished Revolution."

The founders surely knew that when they let these ideas loose in the world, they could never again be caged.

Yet from the beginning, these sentiments were also a thorn in our side, a reminder of the new nation's divided soul. Opponents, who still sided with Britain, greeted it with sarcasm. How can you declare "All men are created equal," without freeing your slaves?

Jefferson himself was an aristocrat whose inheritance of 5,000 acres, and the slaves to work it, mocked his eloquent notion of equality. He acknowledged that slavery degraded master and slave alike, but would not give his own slaves their freedom. Their labor kept him financially afloat. Hundreds of slaves, forced like beasts of burden to toil from sunrise to sunset under threat of the lash, enabled him to thrive as a privileged gentleman, to pursue his intellectual interests, and to rise in politics.

Even the children born to him by the slave Sally Hemings remained slaves, as did their mother. Only an obscure provision in his will released his children after his death. All the others -- scores of slaves -- were sold to pay off his debts...

Yes, Thomas Jefferson possessed "a happy talent for composition," but he employed it for cross purposes. Whatever he was thinking when he wrote "all men are created equal," he also believed black people were inferior to white people. Inferior, he wrote, "to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind." To read his argument today is to enter the pathology of white superiority that attended the birth of our nation.

On the PBS show on June 29, Moyers decried "cream and peaches history," as if he's actually shoveling history instead of bunk about Thomas Jefferson:

BILL MOYERS: Why do politicians whitewash history?

KHALIL GIBRAN MUHAMMAD: Because it helps them get elected. Why else do politicians do what they do?

MOYERS: How does it help them get elected though? Does it mean-- you mean we the voters like our cream and peaches history?

MUHAMMAD: Just like black folks like celebrating -- having barbecue and shootin' fireworks on the 4th of July without any, you know, sense of contradiction in that moment. People want to be happy. People want to celebrate. People want to feel a sense of belonging. And so when politicians craft stories that remove the ugly aspects of the past, which, you know, are really ugly. I mean, there's just no way around them. They are feeding that desire, that sense of belonging, that sense that we are a good people by nature.

Then we were told America is just as deeply racist now as it was many decades ago, citing a study of "stop and frisk" policies that discriminated against black and Latino youth in New York:

MOYERS: It was -- it's amazing to me, astonishing to go through here and find so much of the evidence you've collected. You have even President Roosevelt telling black college graduates in 1904 that, quote, "Criminality is in the ultimate analysis a greater danger to your race than any other thing can be." And one sociologist after another saying, "You blacks are your own worst enemies, because of your criminal--"

MUHAMMAD: That's right.

MOYERS: "--nature." And that took hold in the ideology of dominant America, did it not?

MUHAMMAD: And that's the same dominant ideology that we have today. I mean, it's not packaged in the same explicit rhetoric. But it has given birth to policies like stop, question, and frisk that Mayor Bloomberg has --consistently defends, Ray Kelly consistently defends. Policies such as mass incarceration.

We are still living with the same basic ideas and arguments about the relationship between black criminality and social responsibility, between segregation and public safety today as we were in the 1890s in this country.

This all led Moyers to conclude:

MOYERS: So given the weight of history that you carry with you as a scholar and as a human being, given the heavy hand of history on our backs, how are you going to celebrate the Fourth of July? Seriously. Can you be unaware of all this when you're having that barbecue?

MUHAMMAD: This is a culture of escapism. Let's not forget this. So I probably will go see some blockbuster Hollywood movie in the serenity of air conditioning and hot, buttered popcorn, and take the day off from the weight of history.

MOYERS: Ah, America, right? Thank you very much.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis