Loading...
BYH: To those who keep the Russia probe going. It is time to stop wasting money and time on this. Nothing has been...

Exhibit reveals fuller Jefferson

Melody Barnes

Melody Barnes

Loading…

Monday, June 18, 2018

On June 16, a new exhibit will open at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home in Virginia, in a significant step toward telling the fuller truth of America's national story. Visitors will find the life of Sally Hemings — Jefferson's slave, his deceased wife's half sister and the mother of his "other" children — depicted in greater detail than ever before. As an African-American, a woman and a Monticello trustee, I believe this project is vital for the country and for its democracy.

I grew up in Virginia, where Jefferson was always — and only — celebrated: author of the Declaration of Independence and of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, designer of the state Capitol and founder of the commonwealth's flagship university. My high school, like so many others in the United States, bears his name. But we didn't learn everything about Jefferson. Nothing was taught about Jefferson the plantation owner, who enslaved other human beings — including Hemings, who went unmentioned in our history books. Like millions of other students across the country, we were denied a full understanding of Jefferson. 

Decades later, much has changed, including what we know and publicly acknowledge about our third president. He was a champion of American democratic principles — liberty, tolerance, equality and pluralism — yet he defied their meaning as the owner of men and women who looked like me. His first draft of the Declaration of Independence denounced slavery; he introduced legislation in Virginia to prohibit the importation of enslaved Africans; and he proposed a ban on slavery in the Northwest Territory. But Jefferson later fell publicly silent on the subject and ultimately owned 607 enslaved people during his lifetime, letting only a few go free when he died.

Some who visit Monticello choose to ignore those facts, while others wonder why it stands at all, given Jefferson's life as a slave owner. My hope is that Americans and visitors from around the world will come to understand the past in a meaningful, unvarnished way, and will leave with a fresh appreciation of the need to protect human rights and democratic principles. That requires an honest accounting of the facts and recognition that Monticello has a responsibility to share them with every visitor.

Historians at Monticello have been on a decades-long journey to tell the full story. For 25 years, they have collected oral histories from descendants of Monticello's enslaved families in a project called "Getting Word." There is a tour focused on the Hemings family, and the historical site's first-ever app was entitled "Slavery at Monticello." Now comes perhaps the most significant development yet: on Saturday, an exhibit about Hemings opens in Monticello's South Wing, where she is believed to have lived. It is not a typical period room, but an immersive digital experience that reveals her story and that of her children through the words of her son Madison Hemings. This is a historic opportunity to further illuminate Sally Hemings's humanity while also contemplating the lives of the other enslaved women, men and children on the plantation.

Monticello embodies much of what America grapples with as a nation. The journey to acknowledge and understand Monticello's past was often bitter and halting, just as it has been for the country and its history.

No nation has ever given birth to a multiethnic democracy that, from the start, both espouses and executes upon the principles of freedom. In the current American moment — riddled with anger and desperation, and mired in a centuries-old struggle about power - the need is especially urgent to honestly examine the past and chart a way forward. Understanding the story of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings is a crucial part of that task because their history provides a through-line to many of the country's 21st-century challenges.

Unwinding institutionalized racism and sexism, as well as a culture of supremacy, is a daunting challenge. It might be impossible. But as an American, I believe making the effort is essential — and that success will come only with the truth.

Melody Barnes is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation and the Compton Visiting Professor in World Politics at the University of Virginia's Miller Center. 

Loading…

Humans of Greenville

@HumansofGville

Local photographer Joe Pellegrino explores Greenville to create a photographic census of its people.

Op Ed

January 17, 2019

President Trump's political strategy is completely clear: use his persistent promotion of a border wall to energize his core supporters. His campaign manager, Brad Parscale, told Fox News that "border security" is the "No. 1 reason" those ardent advocates will vote to re-elect him. Trump himself…

Steve and Cokie Roberts

January 17, 2019

Since the Knights of Columbus recently became a political issue, I've seen a constant refrain on social media that goes something along the lines of: "What do you mean, the pancake breakfast guys?" The point being: Could you be picking on nicer guys? But the Knights' goodness goes far beyond…

kathrynlopez

January 17, 2019

The Post's report that President Trump "has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin" — including taking away an interpreter's notes and instructing the person not to discuss what was said even with senior officials of his own…

Marc_Thiessen

January 16, 2019

As you may have heard by now, there was a rather maddening side story to the veto override votes that took place during the week between Christmas and New Year's Day at the North Carolina General Assembly. As commentator Thomas Mills rightfully pointed out on the website Politics NC, had all…

Rob Schofield

January 16, 2019

Here are a couple of easy immigration questions — answerable with a simple "yes" or "no" — we might ask any American of any political stripe: Does everyone in the world have a right to live in the U.S.? Do the American people have a right, through their elected representatives, to…

Walter Williams

January 15, 2019

LOS ANGELES TIMES

With the conspicuous exception of President Trump and some of his supporters, Americans were appalled when it was revealed that Russian “troll farms” had launched a disinformation campaign on social media designed to influence the 2016 election. But online deception…

January 15, 2019

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., defeated Democrat Deborah Ross in 2016 in a race infused with $55 million in outside money.

We already knew North Carolina’s senior U.S. senator was awash in NRA cash. We already knew the pro-gun group spent $5.6 million in 2016 against his Democratic opponent,…

Senate 2016 North Carolina Debate-2

January 15, 2019

According to the headline at CNN, "Trump bears most blame for shutdown."

But according to the CNN/SSRS poll the story is based on, the question asked was "Who do you think is more responsible for the government shutdown?" (emphasis mine).

Those are two entirely different questions. "Blame" is only…

Knapp

January 15, 2019

If you drive into downtown Raleigh from the north, some of the first buildings you'll see are boarded-up, dilapidated brick structures on the left side of Dawson Street.

"Downtown Raleigh's supposed to have a booming real-estate market," you might think to yourself. "Surely a developer would want…

Colin Campbell

January 14, 2019

Chicago Tribune

December saw many of us nestled inside watching romantic Hallmark Channel movies, but January brings a counterpunch: a twisted Lifetime saga of sexual abuse and control. Not romance-gone-wrong escapism, this is a six-part documentary: “Surviving R. Kelly,” an examination…

320 stories in Op Ed. Viewing 1 through 10.
«First Page   «Previous Page        
Page 1 of 32
        Next Page»   Last Page»