Skip to comments.Nation: Thomas Jefferson's kin to vote on inclusion of slave family
Posted on 05/04/2002 2:24:48 PM PDT by ATOMIC_PUNK
Nation: Thomas Jefferson's kin to vote on inclusion of slave family
ROANOKE, Va. (May 4, 2002 4:53 p.m. EDT) - Ever since a DNA test showed a male in Thomas Jefferson's family - possibly the third president himself - fathered slave Sally Hemings' son Eston, the family has squabbled over how to treat their newfound cousins.
For four years, it's been a family feud like no other. Descendants have hired their own public relations consultants, sponsored independent research and placed gag orders on members of their exclusive Monticello Association.
This weekend, the group will finally decide whether to offer Hemings' descendants seats at the family table.
At a business meeting Sunday in Charlottesville, the Monticello Association will vote on whether to its change membership qualifications to include the Hemings family. Its members also will discuss a plan to create a separate but distinct heritage organization for descendants of Jefferson's slaves that could build its own burial plot.
"It will be an equal partnership, not like we're the guys in the big house and they're the folks out in the field," said David Works, a seventh-generation grandson of the former president. "I can't agree with those who want to slam the door on them. That's just not the way you treat people."
Works, 45, who is running for association president Sunday, considers himself a moderate between family members who want to keep the association restricted to Jefferson's proven offspring and others who want to give the Hemings family the benefit of the doubt.
The debate is not restricted to the association.
"It's segregation. ... It's asking us to sit in the back of the bus," Shay Banks-Young, a Hemings descendant, said of the separate cemetery proposal, adding that few of Hemings' descendants even want to join the Monticello Association.
"All we do is brush shoulders at the reunion and sit down in hostility," she said. "I told my son, 'After I die, don't you ever dig me up and bury me there."
Within the fractious association of 800 members, the debate has even turned brother against brother.
Works' older brother, John Works Jr., 47, rejects the theory that Jefferson and Hemings were lovers and wants her family removed from the association's business. He is not backing his brother's bid for association president.
"We're not going to bend to political correctness," John Works said. "If you can prove your case, we'll of course let you in. But it's your burden. For (Hemings descendants) to say, 'I don't need no DNA evidence,' well, I'm sorry, but you do."
The Monticello Association was started in 1913 by descendants of Thomas Jefferson to promote their famous ancestor and preserve the cemetery down the hill from the family estate where Jefferson and others are buried. The wooded plot now holds about 200 graves.
The association's annual meetings, generally somber occasions, turned political in 1999, when Hemings family members started attending, emboldened by a 1998 study that showed Thomas Jefferson fathered Hemings' last child.
An independent study commissioned by John Works later argued that Jefferson's younger brother Randolph was the likely father instead.
People stopped coming because of the controversy, David Works said. Fewer than 50 active members showed up last year.
"Why spend $1,000 to go to Charlottesville if all you're going to do is fight?" said David Works, who lives in Denver. "You can stay home and do that."
Jefferson descendant Lucian Truscott IV said many are uncomfortable with the realization that whites mixed with slaves.
"What this whole Monticello thing is boiling down to is not so much whether or not Jefferson and Hemings had sex but the legacy that slavery has left us," Truscott said. "Part of that legacy is this incredible closeness of family that exists that people don't acknowledge."
In my opinion, the reason for this sudden foray is to stir up present day antagonism. What do you think.
William Flax Return Of The Gods Web Site
I have to say that this makes absolutely no sense to me. It really would be equivalent to riding in the back of the bus. If they decide to let the Hemmings into their society, that's their business. If they decide to keep them out, that's also their business. But you don't start a club for somebody else, that would be patronizing. You either let them into your club, or you tell them to go start their own club.
The DNA evidence did not prove anything new about Thomas Jefferson. It only concluded that a Jefferson was the father of Sally Hemmings last son. Given Jefferson's advanced age and the fact that his nephews were around, I would say that there were more likely candidates.
So, are you saying that the evidence wouldn't have "stood up" in Court? ;-)
Good point. Get all of "the DNA was mis-handled" lawyers from the OJ trial to gripe about the "chain of command", et al. Where is Barry Scheck when you need him?
Monticello's Theories of Relativityand
Jefferson Family Report Urges Against
Taking Hemings Descendants Into Group
For three years, the descendants of slave Sally Hemings have attended family reunions at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello plantation, touring the historic grounds outside Charlottesville alongside Jefferson's acknowledged kin, mingling at often contentious white-linen luncheons and waiting to be recognized as bona fide family.
That seems ever more unlikely now. Continue WashPost
By PETER SAVODNIK
Daily Progress staff writer
Descendants of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings converged on Charlottesville for a two-day meeting Saturday to hash out who belongs to the third presidents extended family and who can be buried in the descendants graveyard at Monticello.
Emotions surrounding the closed-door gathering at the Monticello Event & Conference Center were raw, in some cases pitting brother against brother and black against white.
At issue is a 24-page report being debated by the Monticello Association, which counts among its ranks 700-plus members who trace their lineage to one of Jeffersons two daughters.
The report, formally presented Saturday by the associations Membership Advisory Committee, recommends creating a second organization for descendants of Monticello slaves and workers. The association is expected to vote on the plan today.
The creation of this second, parallel organization, the Families of Jeffersons Monticello, is meant to be an olive branch for descendants of Hemings, the slave with whom Jefferson may or may not have had children.
Although the DNA results alone could not prove that Thomas Jefferson was Eston Hemings father, their addition to other historical evidence reopened the questions of whether Thomas Jefferson was the father of some or all of Sally Hemings children, an association fact sheet states. But members of Families of Jeffersons Monticello would be barred from being buried in the association cemetery, prompting Hemings descendants and some association members to accuse the association of creating a separate but not equal group.
There are 204 Jefferson descendants and their spouses buried at the cemetery at Monticello. James Truscott, the outgoing president of the association, estimated the cemetery could easily double that.
John Works, one of two association members running for president of the group, assailed the politically correct effort to open up the cemetery to Hemings descendants. His brother, David Works, meanwhile, urged everyone association members and the Hemings descendants to listen to each other.
Works, who has said the association should continue studying the possibility of Hemings descendants connection to Jefferson, said he had no idea if the association would adopt the reports recommendations at its meeting this afternoon.
We all have got to get along, Works said. We dont have to be so threatened. Theres nothing to be afraid of. Mary Jefferson, a Hemings descendant and the only one of the 120 attendees at the meeting Saturday whose surname is the third presidents, said the association is conflicted about the report.
Saying she had nothing personally to gain from being let into the association, Jefferson added: Im here for Sally Hemings. I teach kindergarten in Southern California.
Jefferson descendents give no ground to Hemings' heirs
By WARREN FISKE, The Virginian-Pilot
© May 6, 2002
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- The mainline descendants of Thomas Jefferson on Sunday overwhelmingly rejected DNA evidence that many historians say all but proves the third president had a child with his longtime slave Sally Hemings.
Members of the Monticello Association -- a group of lineal descendants of Jefferson and his wife, Martha -- voted 74-6 to deny the Hemings progeny burial rights at the Jefferson family cemetery at Monticello.
The association, during a tense annual meeting attended by several of the Hemings clan and punctuated by charges of racism, also rejected efforts to establish a separate cemetery at Monticello for the Hemingses.
``We have at this point established that the Hemingses have not met criteria sufficiently to be admitted as members,'' said Nathaniel Abeles, the president of the association. ``If evidence to the contrary emerges in the future, we will welcome them with open arms.''
Hemings descendants expected the verdict but reacted with anger and hurt.
``I'm very sorry this happened today,'' said Julia Jefferson Westerinen, a Staten Island artist. ``They've passed up a real chance to further racial reconciliation. I really feel sorry for these people. They're locked in their own cages.''
The events marked a turning point in a heated debate over whether DNA tests cement a long-rumored sexual relationship between the former president and his slave. The tests, conducted in 1998, found identical chromosome markings in male Jefferson descendants and the survivors of one of Hemings' sons.
A number of eminent Jefferson historians say the findings leave little doubt that the president fathered Hemings' children. They note that 200-year-old logs place Jefferson in Monticello nine months before his slave had each of her 12 children.
The 700-member Monticello Association has resisted those conclusions, arguing it is possible that any of eight Jefferson men living near Charlottesville 200 years ago could have impregnated Hemings. They say the most likely suspect is the president's kid brother, Randolph, a widower who was single during most of the years Hemings bore children.
``My personal conviction is that Thomas Jefferson lived so principled a life, that for him to do something like that would be so foreign to his conscience that it is inconceivable,'' said Matthew Mackay Smith, a retired veterinarian and white Jefferson descendant.
Hemings descendants rejected that argument.
``For them to let us in, they'd have to admit that Thomas Jefferson had sex with a black woman, and they can't bring themselves to do that,'' said Shay Banks-Young, a Hemings family member from Ohio.
Leaders of the Monticello Association denied race was a factor in their decision. In the absence of irrefutable proof that the third president sired slave children, they said they must fall back on longstanding bylaws that confer burial at Monticello only to those who can prove direct lineage to Jefferson and his wife through accepted family trees.
About a dozen of Hemings's estimated 2,000 descendants were at Sunday's meeting. They were allowed to attend the debate but could not vote.
Jefferson and Hemings members frequently left the debate to vent frustration with reporters outside. That led to several shouting matches.
``Why do you insist on hanging around here,'' shouted Pamela Buell, a Jefferson descendant, to several Hemings members speaking to the media.
``Because Monticello was built on our backs,'' said Robert Gulden of the Hemings family.
There also was discord within the ranks of the association. It centered on a photo of a wide-eyed black man with his mouth zippered shut that had been e-mailed to Lucian K. Truscott IV, a dissident family member who favors burial rights for the Hemingses.
The picture was sent by David H. Works, a hard-line leader of Monticello Association, in protest of Truscott discussing a confidential report with reporters last month.
Truscott confronted Works with the picture during the meeting, saying it underscored his belief that the decision to exclude the Hemingses was based on race. Works took heated exception and accused his relation of calling him a racist.
Tempers were quelled when other family members took up motions to censure both men and suspend them from the association for a year. Truscott and Works shook hands and apologized.
``Was it poor judgment? Yes.'' Works said. ``Was it appropriate? No . . . I shouldn't have sent it, but it was not meant to be racist.''
Abeles, the association president, played down the incident.
``This shows just how emotional this whole debate has become,'' Abeles said.
Meanwhile, Hemings descendants were undecided whether to attend future association meetings.
``We're going to have to discuss this as a family,'' Young said. ``Most of us don't want to be buried in the cemetery. It's the recognition of our heritage that we're after. We're gaining that every day in history books. We're winning even when we lose.''