AUGUSTA — The Maine Democratic Party is in the process of choosing a new name for its annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in an effort to distance itself from two prominent historical figures whose legacies recently became tarnished by intolerance.
Jeremy Kennedy, the party’s executive director, said the change has been discussed informally since last year but the topic has taken on new urgency recently in the wake of a racially motivated shooting in South Carolina and the ensuing debate over the display of the Confederate flag.
“Over the last year, the conversation has gained some more seriousness and depth and several other states have led the way,” said Kennedy. “It is an event where we honor our party, our values and our leaders, and the name of that event and everything it signifies should reflect those things as well. We have realized that the name Jefferson-Jackson does not adequately do that.”
Democratic parties around the country have long titled their annual dinners “Jefferson-Jackson,” but there has been a recent move away from that name. According to an article in The Atlantic and other news reports, at least four states — New Hampshire, Connecticut, Missouri and Georgia — have changed the name of their dinners. Party leaders in South Carolina, Iowa and Tennessee are also considering changes.
The reasons for ousting the nation’s third and seventh presidents?
Thomas Jefferson owned hundreds of slaves and is thought to have fathered a child with one of the slaves in his custody. Jackson was also a slave owner but is more infamous for his violent and prolonged campaigns against Cherokee Indians.
Kennedy said the party’s executive committee will make the decision in the next couple of weeks and is considering adopting the name of a prominent Democrat from Maine. On the short list are Frances Perkins, who was secretary of state under Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the first woman to be named to a presidential Cabinet position; and former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell.
“I think this is an important decision,” said Kennedy. “I would be mistaken if I said to you it was easy for us to decide what the right thing to do was. If we were to take a deep look at a lot of our historical figures, there is probably a mix of people who made and make great impacts on our state and country and world who probably weren’t always in line with what we view today as our moral standards. We’re not trying to erase history.”
Kennedy said the party intends to solicit suggestions from the public prior to making a final decision.
“We want our events to reflect who we are as a party,” said Kennedy. “It’s very important to the people who we represent that we make this change.”
The Jefferson-Jackson Dinner — or whatever it will be called from now forward — is usually held in September or October.