Thomas Jefferson

The Democratic Party of Virginia is renaming its Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, becoming the latest state party to stop honoring the two former slave-holding presidents at its annual fundraiser.

Chairwoman Susan Swecker announced the change Saturday as party officials gathered in Richmond for a State Central Committee meeting. The dinner will be renamed the “Blue Commonwealth Gala.”

In an interview, Swecker said the name change, which had been under discussion for a year before the party’s steering committee made the decision final on Friday night, will make the dinner “more inclusive and reflective of a fair commonwealth.”

“It was just one of those things folks are ready for,” Swecker said.

Historically named for Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, the dinners have long been the marquee fundraising event for state parties across the country. Party leaders elsewhere, including other Southern states such as North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, have renamed their dinners in an effort to be more inclusive and remove the association with historic figures who oppressed racial minorities.

In addition to owning slaves, Jackson championed the 1830 Indian Removal Act, which led to the forced relocation of the Cherokee Nation.

The change could hold particular resonance in Virginia, Jefferson’s home state, where the legacy of the nation’s third president still looms large as the architect of the state Capitol and the founder of the University of Virginia.

Swecker said Jefferson’s Virginia roots were a “challenge” in the Democrats’ decision-making process.

“He’s everywhere,” Swecker said. “In Virginia, there’s a lot of our history that we’re very proud of, and there’s a lot of it that’s shameful.”

While considering the change, Swecker said she was guided by the words of Dickie Cranwell, a former House Democratic majority leader.

“If this causes angst for one of our members, this causes angst for all of our members,” Swecker recalled Cranwell saying.

The change comes as Democrats appear to be solidifying their grip on what had been considered a purple state, winning every statewide election since 2009. The party swept statewide races for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general last year and picked up 15 seats in the House of Delegates.

The party’s 2018 dinner is scheduled for June 16.

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