Smithsonian and Monticello collaborating on Jefferson and slavery exhibition

August 30, 2011


Brass spigot found at Monticello, which will be part of the Jefferson and slavery exhibit. (Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution and Monticello)

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello announced Tuesday they are collaborating on a new exhibition on Jefferson and slavery.


The garden, part of the vast land, at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. (COURTESY OF MONTICELLO)

“Jefferson and Slavery at Monticello: Paradox of Liberty” is scheduled to open in January 2012 at the National Museum of American History.The African American museum is planned for a prominent space on the National Mall between the American History museum and the Washington Monument. Before its completion in 2015, the curators are showcasing exhibitions in a dedicated gallery at American History.

Almost every temporary exhibit is a test for the content and ideas the new museum will develop. “The most difficult area for the museum to explore is the story of slavery,” said Bunch.


Bone tooth brush found at Monticello, which will be part of a Jefferson and slavery exhibition. (Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution and Monticello)

Jefferson owned the 5,000 acre plantation in Virginia and hundreds of slaves worked there. Jefferson also had a well-documented relationship with Sally Hemings, a slave who traveled with him to care for his daughters when he was Ambassador to France and later lived at Monticello. Hemings had six children, who are believed to be Jefferson’s.

Mulberry Row, the slave quarters at Monticello, is undergoing restoration and will be the focus of a new exhibition at Monticello next February.

Bunch said the lives of six slave families, including the Hemings, will be a centerpiece of the exhibition. The curators from the museum and Monticello will use materials from Monticello’s Getting Word oral history project, which has interviewed 170 descendents of Jefferson’s slaves since 1993.

“The goal is not to knock Thomas Jefferson. The goal is to help people understand the complex man that was Thomas Jefferson and to understand that complexity was tied to slavery,” Bunch said.

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