Thomas Jefferson Sally Hemings

January 27, 2012 by staff 

Thomas Jefferson Sally Hemings, The Griot Institute for Africana Studies at Bucknell University will host the spring lecture series, “Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson: An American Origin Story, Interdisciplinarily Considered.”

“The series seeks to examine various narratives about the Hemings/Jefferson affair in terms of their historical and contemporary resonances and significances,” according to Carmen Gillespie, director of the Griot Institute and professor of English.

It has been suggested that Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, Secretary of State, U.S. president, and founder of the University of Virginia, had a relationship with Sally Hemings, one of his more than 100 slaves.

“Although the assertion remains controversial centuries after it was originally made public, most contemporary historians concur that the preponderance of evidence suggests that Jefferson and Hemings had seven children over the course of a 38-year involvement. In 1998, DNA tests supported the allegation, yet the story remains the subject of debate.

“Throughout the semester, the series will consider the Hemings/Jefferson narrative as an American origin story that can be used as a tool to unearth the foundations of many of our contemporary conflicts and conundrums,” she said.

In addition to lectures by visiting scholars, the series will feature a PBS documentary, an original sound installation, dramatic performances and a trip to Monticello. All events are free and open to the public.
The series begins Wednesday, Feb. 1, with the talk, “Jefferson, Callender and Interracial Sexuality in 18th-century Virginia,” by Joshua Rothman at 7 p.m. in the Forum of the Elaine Langone Center. Rothman is an associate professor of history and African-American studies at the University of Alabama and director of the Summersell Center for the Study of the South.

The PBS Frontline film “Jefferson’s Blood,” will be shown Thursday, Feb. 16, at 7 p.m. in the Forum of the Elaine Langone Center. Frontline correspondent Shelby Steele examines Jefferson’s life and follows the descendants of Jefferson and Hemings as they undergo DNA testing, search out their family history, and try to sort out their place among America’s blurred colorline.

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