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State Democrats Revisiting Name of Annual Jefferson Jackson Bailey Dinner

Official White House portrait of Thomas Jefferson; James Tooley, Jr. portrait of Andrew Jackson
Creative Commons
Images of Thomas Jefferson, left, and Andrew Jackson.
"The time has come to reevaluate the name of the JJB to reflect the diverse makeup of our party."
Nick Balletto

Like several other states, Connecticut's Democratic Party hosts its annual Jefferson Jackson Bailey Dinner next week. Like others, the party is also revisiting the name of this fundraiser.

The event is named after national historical figures Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson. State political operative John Moran Bailey's name is added to Connecticut's dinner.

Now in light of the national discussion over symbols of the slavery-era, questions are being raised about the naming of this dinner not just by outsiders, but by the organizers too.

The Connecticut Democratic Party chair Nick Balletto released a statement to WNPR on the issue:

Democrats are the party of inclusion, in my opinion, the time has come to reevaluate the name of the JJB to reflect the diverse makeup of our party. I recognize that a change won’t happen overnight, but we will continue discussions to ensure that the name of our biggest annual event represents the inclusive nature of our party.

In most of the promotion for this event, it is referred to as the "JJB Dinner," avoiding the names altogether. This year, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is the keynote speaker. On WNPR's Where We Live, the weekly news roundtable The Wheelhouse discussed the event and its name.

A transcript of The Wheelhouse conversation is below:

Credit Chion Wolf / WNPR
Connecticut Public

COLIN MCENROE: I’ll tell you one big change that happened overnight -- Nick Balletto may, in his term of office, transform the Democratic State Central Committee,and the Democratic Party in Connecticut, to a much more appealing organization than it has been. 

Here’s the question: if we’re going to flyspeck South Carolina about the stars and bars, about naming streets after John C. Calhoun and having statues of him looming over Marion Square and all, if we’re going to flyspeck everyone about the iconography, then we have to ask questions about our own iconography.

Credit Mathew Brady / Creative Commons
Creative Commons
John C. Calhoun in an 1849 daguerreotype.

Earlier this week, both I and Ray Hardman were bringing up questions about Calhoun College at Yale named after John C. Calhoun, as ardent a white supremacist that ever lived.

The University of Virginia has done a lot of work. They are ahead of this issue on stuff that was named after Jefferson. They’ve got a problem in general.

Really, all of the original states, including Connecticut, have a lot of wealth created from the slave trade. Elihu Yale, for that matter, was a key figure in the Indian Ocean slave trade. But UVA, they’ve tried to get ahead of this; they’ve formed a commission on it; they’re naming dorms after slave couples now, they’re trying to do something about this.

I do think that northern Democrats have to be honest about this, and say, wow, Jefferson and Jackson, that's actually a pretty distasteful legacy, at least at the level of slave ownership.

HOST JOHN DANKOSKY: It seems interesting that so much has happened, it seems, just this week since this terrible tragedy in Charleston.

But I will say I’m a little bit surprised at the way the Democratic party is moving on this. Of course, these are names associated with the Democratic Party in dinners like this all over the country.

KEITH PHANEUF: I think the sensitivity level is increasing. Colin raises a good point, because at some point...we’re talking about Thomas Jefferson, you also have the Declaration of Independence and you have some other things out there.

At some point, I do think there's going to have to be this balance between history remembered and what type of things we don’t want to venerate, like the confederate flag.

Nicole Wetsman contributed to this post.

Tucker Ives is WNPR's morning news producer.

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