Clyde Ensslin Explores Thomas Jefferson’s Secret, Unflattering History in his Fringe Debut

Posted in Articles, Arts, History, Media Archive, United States on 2017-07-21 18:09Z by Steven

Clyde Ensslin Explores Thomas Jefferson’s Secret, Unflattering History in his Fringe Debut

Washington City Paper
2017-07-06

Caroline Jones, City Lights Editor


Clyde Ensslin (Darrow Montgomery)

Clyde Ensslin’s journey to the Capital Fringe Festival began, of all places, in an Uber. Ensslin has driven for the rideshare company since 2014, and one night in the fall of that year he received a message to pick up a passenger at the bar Showtime in Bloomingdale. That passenger turned out to be Capital Fringe CEO Julianne Brienza.

As they rode, she told him she’d just closed on Fringe’s new headquarters on Florida Avenue NE. When Ensslin revealed he had never heard of the arts festival, Brienza gave him a crash course in the world of Fringe, from its roots in Edinburgh to her plans to build Trinidad into an arts district. “She just kind of blew me away,” he says of his first impression. She encouraged him to see shows when the festival returned in the summer. He bought an eight-pack of tickets.

“At the time, I did not think this was anything I’d want to do,” he says now. But after seeing pieces he loved, like Cara Gabriel’s I Am the Gentry, he bought another eight-pack the following year. By the end of the 2016 festival, he was hooked. At the same time, Ensslin’s passengers were regularly telling him how much he sounds like former president Bill Clinton, so he started thinking about constructing a play that would coincide with the 20th anniversary of the 42nd president’s impropriety and subsequent impeachment

…Early on in the process, he discussed his plans with Ibe Crawley, the operator of IBe’ Arts, a small gallery in Historic Anacostia, who pushed him to not focus directly on Bill and Monica and instead tell the story of another lecherous commander-in-chief: Thomas Jefferson. The resulting play, a monologue called Thomas Jefferson: Hoochie-Coochie Man, is presented as a college lecture, taught by professor William Jefferson Clinton, that breaks down the relationship between Jefferson and Sally Hemings and the ways that story has evolved over time.

To begin his research, Ensslin consulted the authoritative text on the subject, historian Annette Gordon-Reed’s The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family. Gordon-Reed tells the stories of multiple generations of the Hemings family, who became Jefferson’s property when he inherited them from his father-in-law. She chronicles the hard labor they did on his plantation and follows members of the family after they were freed upon Jefferson’s death. After hearing her speak at the 2016 National Book Festival, Ensslin dove deeper into the historiographical archives, reading Christopher Hitchens’ Thomas Jefferson: Author of America and titles by Michelle Alexander, Michael Eric Dyson, and Eddie S. Glaude Jr. as he tried to understand the paradox that Jefferson occupies in American history.

Ensslin’s show arrives at a time of renewed interest in Jeffersonian scholarship. After DNA evidence conclusively proved Jefferson fathered a child with Sally Hemings, historians and curators were forced to deal with that aspect of Jefferson’s life for the first time. A large donation from philanthropist David Rubenstein in 2013 allowed curators at Monticello, Jefferson’s home in Charlottesville, Virginia, to build replicas of the cabins slaves lived in on the plantation. Visitors can now go on tours that specifically highlight the experiences of slaves and the Hemings family. But even Hamilton, every woke theater nerd’s guide to early American history, paints Jefferson as a politically savvy bon vivant, only mentioning Sally in a winking reference for history buffs…

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Sally Hemings wasn’t Thomas Jefferson’s mistress. She was his property.

Posted in Articles, Communications/Media Studies, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Virginia on 2017-07-13 00:09Z by Steven

Sally Hemings wasn’t Thomas Jefferson’s mistress. She was his property.

The Washington Post
2017-07-07

Britni Danielle


The room at Monticello where Sally Hemings is believed to have lived. (Norm Shafer/For The Washington Post)

Archaeologists at Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia plantation, Monticello, are unearthing the room where Sally Hemings is believed to have lived, allowing for a new way to tell the story of the enslaved people who served our third president. The excavation has once again reminded us that 241 years after the United States was founded, many Americans still don’t know how to reconcile one of our nation’s original sins with the story of its Founding Fathers.

Just before the Fourth of July, NBC News ran a feature on the room, setting off a spate of coverage about the dig. Many of these stories described Hemings, the mother of six children with Jefferson, as the former president’s “mistress.” The Inquisitr, the Daily Mail, AOL and Cox Media Group all used the word (though Cox later updated its wording). So did an NBC News tweet that drew scathing criticism, though its story accurately called her “the enslaved woman who, historians believe, gave birth to six of Jefferson’s children.” The Washington Post also used “mistress” in a headline and a tweet about Hemings’s room in February.

Language like that elides the true nature of their relationship, which is believed to have begun when Hemings, then 14 years old, accompanied Jefferson’s daughter to live with Jefferson, then 44, in Paris. She wasn’t Jefferson’s mistress; she was his property. And he raped her…

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Thomas and Sally

Posted in Arts, Forthcoming Media, History, Live Events, Slavery, United States on 2017-05-12 02:02Z by Steven

Thomas and Sally

Marin Theater Company
Mill Valley, California
September 28-October 22 (2017) | World Premiere

By Thomas Bradshaw


Thomas Bradshaw

An explosive world premiere by the 2017 PEN Award-winner, Thomas and Sally gets up close and personal with our country’s first prominent mixed-race couple: Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, the enslaved woman who mothered 6 of his children. Bradshaw takes us behind the scenes—and into the beds—of American history with the Hemings-Jeffersons and the rock stars of the Revolution: Ben Franklin, John & Abigail Adams & the Marquis de Lafayette!

For more information, click here.

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Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson, And The Normalization of Slave Rape Narratives

Posted in Articles, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Women on 2017-03-19 01:34Z by Steven

Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson, And The Normalization of Slave Rape Narratives

black youth project
2017-02-23

Elizabeth Adetiba

I am not the same person now as I was when I was 14—and thank God for that. I was remarkably naive and unbearably insecure, and stuck in an environment that did nothing but exacerbate those complex internal struggles that are so typical of adolescence.

So imagine my outrage upon being continuously confronted with articles that insist on describing the affairs between Thomas Jefferson and a fourteen year-old enslaved Sally Hemings (simultaneously his slave and wife’s half-sister) as a ‘relationship.’ I cannot fathom, at fourteen, being denied the liberty to reject the sexual advances of a 44 year-old man (and not just any man, but a man who would become the President of the United States) only to have historians and writers skip over the imbalanced power dynamics and categorize it as a ‘relationship.’…

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Why You Can’t Ever Call an Enslaved Woman a “Mistress”

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2017-03-05 22:16Z by Steven

Why You Can’t Ever Call an Enslaved Woman a “Mistress”

Teen Vogue
2017-02-27

Lincoln Blades

This is an important Black History Month PSA.

In the black community, many different opinions abound regarding the usefulness of Black History Month. For some, it is viewed as a necessary and critical tool for cultural celebration and propagating the importance of our collective historical achievements, which otherwise would go unnoticed. For others, it feels like a reductive display of forced lip service conducted during the shortest and coldest month of the year, in lieu of providing us with a more sustained and inclusive role in the everyday curriculum. But what we all can agree on is that presenting our history in a wholly accurate and factual manner delivered with the correct context is of the utmost importance, which is why we react so strongly to inaccurate and/or misrepresentative claims.

That irritation was inflamed this past weekend when The Washington Post published an article about a restoration that would be occurring at Monticello, the plantation of America’s third president, Thomas Jefferson, which is operated as a museum. The restoration to be completed will involve unmasking a bathroom installed in 1941 just steps from Jefferson’s bedroom to reveal what the room really was: Sally Hemings’s bedroom…

Read the entire article here.

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For decades they hid Jefferson’s relationship with her. Now Monticello is making room for Sally Hemings.

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Virginia, Women on 2017-03-05 21:59Z by Steven

For decades they hid Jefferson’s relationship with her. Now Monticello is making room for Sally Hemings.

The Washington Post
2017-02-19

Krissah Thompson


By excavating and restoring areas where the slave community lived and worked, Monticello is trying to more fully integrate their stories at the historic plantation. A special focus will be placed on Sally Hemings, whose room in the house will soon be on display for the first time.

CHARLOTTESVILLE — The room where historians believe Sally Hemings slept was just steps away from Thomas Jefferson’s bedroom. But in 1941, the caretakers of Monticello turned it into a restroom.

The floor tiles and bathroom stalls covered over the story of the enslaved woman, who was owned by Jefferson and had a long-term relationship with him. Their involvement was a scandal during his life and was denied for decades by his descendants. But many historians now believe the third president of the United States was the father of her six children.

Time, and perhaps shame, erased all physical evidence of her presence at Jefferson’s home here, a building so famous that it is depicted on the back of the nickel.

Now the floor tiles have been pulled up and the room is under restoration — and Hemings’s life is poised to become a larger part of the story told at Monticello…

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Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings, and the Question of Race: An Ongoing Debate

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2017-02-19 20:04Z by Steven

Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings, and the Question of Race: An Ongoing Debate

Journal of American Studies
Volume 37, Number 1 (April, 2003)
pages 99-118
DOI: 10.1017/S0021875803007023

Peter Nicolaisen (1936-2013), Professor of English Emeritus
University of Flensburg, Germany

Not many private relationships in history have received as much press attention in recent years as that between Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings. First alleged in 1802 by the journalist James Callender, who based his account on stories that had been current in Virginia for some years, the affair has since then been debated both in the scholarly community and by the general public to an unparalleled degree. The results of the DNA tests on male descendants of the Jefferson and Hemings families that were published in 1998 have added fuel to the debate. Meanwhile, its focus has shifted. The majority of those who have publicly expressed an opinion on the case, including the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation which owns and administers Monticello, now seem to agree that a sexual relationship between Jefferson and Sally Hemings did exist, and that it resulted in a number of children. The questions addressed today primarily concern the implications of the affair. What does the liaison between Jefferson and Sally Hemings mean for our understanding of the man Thomas Jefferson, and how does it affect the accomplishments he has generally been credited with? Given the little we know about her, how do we view Sally Hemings’s role in the relationship, and how do we come to understand her as an individual living out her life in bondage? What, if any, are the consequences the affair has for an evaluation of interracial relationships as they existed in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries?…

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A president’s past yields a modern parable

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Passing, Slavery, United States on 2017-02-19 03:56Z by Steven

A president’s past yields a modern parable

The Berkshire Eagle
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
2017-01-24

Jenn Smith


A tree is planted and dedicated to the descendants of Thomas Jefferson and his slave, Sally Hemings, at Monticello’s Mulberry Row. Mulberry Row was the center of activity of Jefferson’s 5,000-acre agricultural enterprise. According to the Monticello website, it was populated by more than 20 dwellings, workshops, and storehouses between 1770 and the sale of Monticello in 1831.
PHOTO PROVIDED BY JANE FELDMAN

Students learn about black history in Thomas Jefferson’s family

PITTSFIELD — History can play a crucial role in our futures, if we listen to it.

In 2002, photographer, Jane Feldman, who shares her time between the Berkshires and New York City, and Shannon Lanier, the sixth great-grandson of U.S. President Thomas Jefferson, worked together to publish through Random House, “Jefferson’s Children: The Story of One American Family.”

The book details, in family album and portrait style, Lanier’s trip across the country to retrace the footsteps of his maternal ancestor, Madison Hemings, the son of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. Hemings was Jefferson’s African-American slave.

With increasing discussions and divides developing across the nation regarding race and rights, Lanier and Feldman have decided to revive a series of tours and talks — originally conducted after the book’s release — about the book and its themes of identity, family and the varying perspectives of American history and culture.

“We believe that one of the things that will help us all navigate through this complicated time in our history is the ability to understand where we’ve come from and where we are going as individuals and as a nation,” Feldman said…

…The co-authors also noted how people aren’t always as they seem; for example how many light-skinned members of the Jefferson-Hemings lineage would go on to “pass” in society, that is, take advantage of the social statuses that came with looking like a white person, including freedom from slavery.

But the side effect of passing, is some future generations grew unaware of their black heritage, some even becoming racist, without knowing their own black blood lines…

Read the entire article here.

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Jefferson’s Children: The Story of One American Family

Posted in Arts, Books, History, Media Archive, Monographs on 2017-02-19 03:45Z by Steven

Jefferson’s Children: The Story of One American Family

Random House
December 2002
160 pages
Hardcover ISBN: 978-0195031720
Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-0-375-82168-4

Shannon Lanier and Jane Feldman

Personal testimonies from descendants of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings pose important questions about equality, freedom, and family.

On October 31, 1998, the Associated Press broke the news that there was finally scientific proof for what many people already knew was true, but others would not believe: Thomas Jefferson had a relationship with his slave Sally Hemings after the death of his wife. This DNA link was proven through the Eston Hemings line.

Jefferson’s Children is the story of the Jefferson and Hemings families, and their efforts to be recognized and united as proud descendants of this great American genius. Some discovered their heritage through written family records, and others have based their beliefs on oral histories. Regardless of their sources, many descendants of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings want the world to know that skin color isn’t what makes a family.

Thomas Jefferson wrote about equality. He believed in freedom. Yet, he owned slaves. This contradiction in character raises many questions among historians and descendants as they unravel the “truth” about this complex man. Did he indeed father children with his slave, Sally Hemings? How would he view the issues of racism among his ancestors today?

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The Strange and Ironic Fates of Jefferson’s Daughters

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States, Virginia, Women on 2016-09-18 18:14Z by Steven

The Strange and Ironic Fates of Jefferson’s Daughters

The Daily Beast
2016-09-17

Sally Cabot Gunning


Photo Illustration by Kelly Caminero/The Daily Beast

Martha Jefferson was Virginia elite. Her half-sister Harriet, though seven-eighths white, was deemed a slave at birth. No one could have predicted their fates.

Martha Jefferson was born in 1772, just as Monticello was rising above her, promising a life surrounded by beauty, luxury, and pampering. For the first ten years of her existence this promise held, but in 1782 Martha’s mother died, leaving a father incapacitated by grief, but still a father in pursuit of his daughter’s future happiness. He set out a stringent regimen of study which included reading, writing, literature, languages, music, art, and dance.

Two years later, Martha and her father traveled to France, joined later by Martha’s younger sister and her enslaved maid, Sally Hemings. In France Martha boarded at a convent school and received a formal education few other American women of the day would acquire in their lifetimes. At her father’s Paris residence, she received another kind of education, conversing with world leaders and learning, among other things, that there are countries where slavery was illegal. “I wish with all my soul that the poor Negroes were all freed,” she wrote her father from school. She listened eagerly as her father and his secretary, William Short, talked of plans to set up their slaves as free tenant farmers when they returned to Virginia. But the 17-year-old Martha listened eagerly to William Short for another reason—she had fallen in love and her father had taken note; he abruptly took Martha, her sister, and Sally Hemings—who was pregnant with Thomas Jefferson’s child—back to Virginia.

There the realities of the Virginia way of life and her father’s new preoccupations with Monticello, politics, and dare she imagine it—Sally—convinced Martha it was time to claim a life for herself.  After three short months at home, with her father’s whole-hearted blessing, Martha married her distant cousin, Thomas Randolph, a man determined to make his way in Virginia “without dependency” on the institution of slavery…

Read the entire article here.

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