Museums | Sights
Drawing from archaeology, documentary research, and Getting Word, Monticello’s oral history project, which has helped preserve the histories of more than 170 descendants of enslaved families, this exhibition explores slavery and enslaved people in America through the lens of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello plantation. Visitors see a glimpse into the lives of six enslaved families living at Monticello – the Hemings, the Gillettes, the Herns, the Fossetts, the Grangers, and the Hubbards – and learn how the paradox of slavery in Jefferson’s world is relevant for generations beyond their lifetime.The exhibition contains objects that belonged to Thomas Jefferson and the enslaved people who lived and worked at Monticello. While many possessions of Jefferson and his family have passed down through the generations and remain intact, the items owned by enslaved workers and craftspeople have been recovered through archaeology. The stories told through these items provide a look at enslaved people as individuals – with names, deep family and marital connections, values, achievements, religious faith, a thirst for literacy and education, and tenacity in the pursuit of freedom. Slavery at Monticello: How the Word is Passed Down allows visitors to hear stories and listen to the “way back” tales of Monticello and the newer stories of fighting for justice, as descendants bring to light the lives of their ancestors and the values they passed down. The stories, including the largest family, the Hemingses, reveal the strength of family bonds and importance of community activism. Participants in the Getting Word project and some of their ancestors from previous centuries were blacksmiths and farmers, educators and ministers, soldiers and suffragists. Visitors find out where their families went after Monticello, where the descendants settled in the nineteenth century, and where they live today. The Atlanta History Center’s annual Black History Month programs and ongoing public programs and festivals are a complement to this new exhibition. Additional programs and activities during the run of this show include a selection of workshops focusing on African American genealogy led by the Atlanta History Center’s Kenan Research Center; and Juneteenth, a summer festival celebrating freedoms and family history. The exhibition was on view at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History from January 25, 2012 to October 9, 2012 as Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello: Paradox of Liberty.