tv The Presidency Presidential Sites Slavery CSPAN September 18, 2022 12:33am-1:50am EDT
slavery at presidential sites and how these places are sharing and promoting more inclusive histories. mary elliott, curator at the smithsonian national museum of african american history and culture, will moderate. mary co-curated the museum's slavery and freedom exhibit and served as curator and content developer for their digital humanities project. the searchable museum. please note that there is a change to the panel as listed in your program. dr. elizabeth chew was unable to attend today and dr. sarah bon harper, who you heard from earlier, will be joining the panel. dr. ben harper initiated research at highland that led to the discovery of the archaeological remains of the monroe's main house and opened a new chapter of site interpretation with inclusive narratives enriched by descendant collaboration. our next panelist, andrew davenport, is the public historian at the thomas jefferson foundation and manager of the getting word african-american oral history project at monticello. he is currently a ph.d.
candidate at georgetown university ity. our final panelist is my colleague lena mann, historian at the white house historical association. lena's research at the association focuses on the enslaved individuals that built, lived and worked in the white house. please join me in welcoming our panelists to the stage. oh, great. good, good. good afternoon. that's nice and enthusiastic after that wonderful life. mm hmm. i actually think is there nap room? well, it's a pleasure to be here this afternoon. and we have a wonderful conversation and that's going to unfold on stage. and i'm really honored to be on
stage with our panelists today. today, there is excitement and tension in the air when it comes to interpreting american history in the 21st century. the american story is being told through in a more inclusive way, through the lens of historically marginalized people providing, a more nuanced understanding of how the nation came into being. the work involves research, preservation, education, public engagement, board oversight, interpretation. indeed, storytelling. the important effort can be seen in museum, cms and historic sites, including presidential sites. tonight or this afternoon, this panel will consider president sites that were historically used to enslave people and discuss these places are being
our sharing these stories. and promoting a more inclusive history of place people and country. the approach to telling the story of the nation. the people who brought it in to build slavery and freedom. the human story and the shared history is important as we connect it with audiences and help them reflect and think more deeply about this history. our panel includes three dynamic public, historic in serving in a variety of positions who are contributing to and changing the public history field at arguably some of the most widely known and highly regarded historic sites in the nation. they are on the front lines, engaging, encouraging and empowering the public to think more deeply about the nation's history and about the nation's future. we have sarah bon harper, as
you've heard, as well as andrew davenport, short and lena. man. before we get started, just a little bit of housekeeping. please make sure your phones turned off so let me start with sarah bon harper with your impressive resume. just very briefly if you could share, because i think it's important for people to get to know you as a person. but what brought you to this work? yeah, well, thank you. and can i first say just a moment to acknowledge that the reason elizabeth, you is not with us today? of course, we've all followed montpelier closely in the news. and so as of yesterday afternoon, she's been named interim ceo and president of w the descendent led board. so the. and i know she was very much
looking forward to being here in this place with us all. and i'm just a substitute for her. so thank you for welcoming me just the same. and we really do miss having her here. but, you know, she's we know she's doing really good work there and important work. so, yeah, thank you. is very timely. what's going on right now? that's right. and truthfully, we were going to debate over who got to say that the really good friends with elizabeth. i'm good friends with elizabeth. she's really good friends with. i lived just, you know, right near elizabeth. so we see each other multiple times a week. so that's not a we both have long, decades long history with elizabeth. and we know the good work that she does. so. right so that's that was what brought me here today this afternoon to the panel. but what brought me to this work as as we talked about this morning, i am an archaeologist and in the next level up i consider myself a researcher and i have just a commitment and a
passion for the concept that research narratives can be brought to all audiences, whether they scholarly stew and public children, you know, all the different audiences. and i really believe in taking the truths that we discover. each generation needs to wrestle with and discover anew and discover new ones by asking different questions that we should really bring those to the public. and that's that's sort of my driving force. and what brought me. well, thank you. so let me ask you a few other questions. and don't mind me if i read my question, because it was her background is so powerful and the stories are so important with highland that i wanted to make sure i framed this properly. james monroe like thomas jefferson and other presidents before him, inherited wealth, including real property and property, and people enslaved
people. he enslaved at least. 177 black people, including enslaving some at the white house, monroe, while professing the evils of slavery, did not grant freedom to the black people. he held in bondage. with the exception of many meeting one man, peter marks. and that was upon james monroe's death. peter marks was granted his freedom additionally, james monroe believed that free black people should manifest their freedom beyond the shores of the united states in order to maintain the integrity of the social and economic order. how does highlands present the story of president monroe? the last founding father. and as an enslaver and a segregationist without leaning into the narrative of the benevolent enslaver. additionally how are the experiences of those who were enslaved, including peter marks? who? monroe man you made it.
and peter mallory, the enslaved black man, a skilled carpenter who helped build the highlands. guess house in a way that speaks to both their humanity in addition to their labor. yeah. thank you for that thoughtful question. i think if we can sit here. monroe, maybe as part of the founding generation. right. changing to that language of the time and all who participated. then we're part of what built this country. and how are our past unrolled that? that opens a door to what i consider an ecosystem approach. and let me explain that, which is that. monroe an enslaved individual and many other enslaved individuals also were part of
social, economic, political, agricultural systems, functioning at the same time, and they were all actors within these same worlds. and so where one is discussed, the other is discussed. they may have had different roles, but they have different, but they are part of the same conversations. and so i have brought that forward and it's been one of my really big soapboxes. and i go ahead and tell my team, you know, all right, you can laugh at me when i start talking about this guy really excited about it. and i really believe in it that we need to discuss them in the same places with the same themes. and so in our new we curated standing guest house, our exhibitions show, different perspectives, and they show discussion and of peter mallory, for example, and how we understand him from the
documentary record alongside monroe's discussion in the same letter with about andrew jackson. right. and so that they are in the same places and in that in this particular example, they came from a letter from 1818. but in that they're not they're not spatially separated and they're not thematically separated. and this to the point where. in one of our spaces there's a small sign that we prompt the visitors with the question, is there an exhibit on slavery here? and the answer is actually not specifically, but that slave is discussed in all the spaces and throughout our interpretation, just as slavery was present through all the spaces, all aspects of life at the time, and people we often see stop and
think about that and want to reflect on it and want to talk about it with our guides staff. but that's, i think, the key piece that that ecosystem of it's not a separate portion. they too. peter marks. peter mallory, george williams, the enslaved cook. hannah, we're all members of that founding generation in different ways. and so we try to really make that substantial in our interpretation. i love that because, you know, it also allows the audience to understand that these were people who had family faith system aims, they had their skill sets, but also had intellect, and they had considerations of freedom. right. no doubt discussion of freedom, what it meant. at the same time, as, you know, president monroe was reflecting freedom and looking around to
his environment and seeing enslaved african-americans and thinking about what freedom meant and how it had to be manifest. it would interrupt the system that was in place right. right. which i think was the the hurdle that so many did not get past. and as you referenced, liberia, that idea of living alongside free black americans side by side with the same rights and privileges that was that was too much for most of them to imagine. they could not get or could not or would not get their heads around that. and that's a part of our conversation. and for many people, that's even something very new for them to learn about colonization. so it's really great. exactly. and we can bring that thread forward to, you know, where does segregation start and, you know, sort of go all the way back and really make those connections.
yeah. well, so your body includes that you served as monticello is archaeological research manager and you have lectured and written on a variety of themes, including the analysis of archaeological data, landscapes of slavery and the construction of historic narratives for academic and popular audiences. what do descendant voices bring to the table, and what are two or three key things the audience should know about the practice of descendant engagement and its importance to preservation work in the interpretation of slavery? yes, and i want to hold all of those pieces to make sure i answer them. i think the the real. need for including descendant voices is, of course, that many scholars or museum professionals come from outside the communities so impacted by the history we're discussing. and fortunately, not all. but many scholars come from
outside that community. and so, including the voices who rightfully have a place in that story, is critical. and so i'll i'll next think about it. a point that i know elizabeth would also talk about here, which was the summit at montpelier with the national trust early in 2018, about best practices for teaching, about slavery. and from that summit, each one of the highland descendants and i attended and were part of the follow up in creating the rubric about the best best practices for teaching about slavery and the rubric includes research, interpretation and governance. and of course, we've already talked about elizabeth's role and her absence here in that governance piece. but that's, i think, the big and critical element is to include
those voices in those various components and i think on a sort of personal, experiential response to a part of your question, one of the things that descendent voices in our community, in our in highlands council of descendant advisors, one of the things that they add is to make sure that we're not just talking about the past. right. we are talking about the world we live in and about the future. and so on our slate of things we consider together is. what do we want to do for our world today that makes the future differ? and and i'm not saying that's never been a part of my consideration otherwise, but that's something that is resound and clearly on list because of the conversations that we've had. i love that. thank you so much. so our next panelist is andrew
davenport. and you have a really unique kind of special position dealing with recording the oral histories of african american. when you two are a descendant as well associated with monticello. so i have a few questions for you, but the first one is similar. what brought you to this work? thank you so much, mary. and thank you, sarah for your answers are just just fabulous. what brought me to the work is, is the story of preservation and it's also a story of of recovery and i grew up with my grandmother who grew up with her grandmother and my grandmother's grandparents enslaved in central virginia. that's not a story that i knew growing up. i knew about the people. i knew the names and i knew the stories. but family didn't talk about the history of enslavement.
but as you well know, oral history, storytelling, these are favorite ways of passing on information to younger generations. and as my mentor, dr. diane swann wrote, was a pioneering oral historian to say the children are a vessel for their elders stories and also elders pick out people in their families. young in the family, to pour their stories into. and it was early on, i think, identified as the kind of sucker who was going to just, like, receive all of this history from my grandmother and her sisters who were light skinned african-americans, who grew up in jackson ward in richmond, virginia, and who attended school here in dc. my great aunts went to dunbar in the 1930s and my great grandfather was a graduate of howard medical school, actually, the school of pharmacy in 1915. and i heard of these stories growing up about my grandmother's people and but i never could get past 1870.
right. that's the the famous brick wall. when you're doing african-american genealogy, i went away to college and while we were there, barack obama was elected president. and in 2008, we were having conversations about being post race or the possibility that america could happen to be post race and. i remember being in the audience as my professors had a q&a and thinking to myself, there is no way that this country can be post race, because i have so much to work through myself. i most certainly am not post race. and i thought that what i had to do internally was do the kind of research that would maybe give me some answers to the questions that i had, like, where do people come from? who were they enslaved by? and so on. and i didn't just do that for the african-american side of my family, which is my and my maternal side. but did that also my my irish family, my dad's side, and i became an irish citizen within the past couple of years doing
similar kind of research. so i'm just kind of stuck doing history research, but i love it so much. and what ended up happening is that i decided to try to meet as many people as i possibly could throughout these various branches of my family. so i set out after graduating from college ten years ago to do that work really with an emphasis on african-american history here in the united states, but also, basically, i was open to meeting anyone. in 2015, i met a cousin, a third cousin once removed gael, jessup, white and gael introduced me to monticello. and we have shared ancestor her great grandmother is my great great grandfather's brother. okay. we come from a family called the robinsons, which are an extended branch of the hemings family who we learned were at monticello, my grandmother's grandfather was born enslaved in charlottesville. he was born likely at or around
edgehill, which is the plantation owned by thomas jefferson. randolph jefferson's grandson. and we learned, of course, that we had ancestors who were enslaved at monticello. my very first experience, i want to tell it happened august 2016. monticello and the getting word project, which is this oral history for descendants, had partnered with the slave dwelling project. excuse me, my notebook keeps falling off to invite descendants back to stay overnight at monticello for an entire weekend. so i was there with other descendants, maybe two or three dozen for the various families, descendant from families who were enslaved at monticello. the granger family, the hemings family, the fossett family's, the hughes family, the gillette family. there were no tourists there. there were no visitors. it was just us and was our first time. we had dinner together, meeting one another, and we we had a fire on mulberry row, which of course, is the main street of
jefferson's monticello, as everyone been there, there's this unconscionably beautiful view, south into buckingham county. and you can you're on mulberry row looking out. and here we are having this fire just surrounded with people who have these personal and deep familial connections. and my question was, why did people return? because this is a tragic history. there's no question after jefferson dies, 200 enslaved people are sold away, dispersed. they're scattered all over the country. as one of them said, peter fossett, who was 11 years old when he was forcibly sold in the west lawn. i'm on a cello. we were scattered all over the country and never to see each other again until we meet in another world. he said that in 1900, when he was about 85 years old, what he couldn't have imagined is that there were a number of historians, particularly black women historians and others associated with them, who were doing the kind of recovery work, the kind of preserved work to restore family and social ties. and the folks had come back and they've been doing for at least
a generation. and so i was just completely blown away. in august 2016, i slept overnight in the beer cellar. i met scores of people who i not met previously and basically from from that point forward, i decided i was already a history teacher. so i was kind of primed for this, but i decided to try and do try and learn as much as i possibly could about what happened at monticello, what happened beyond monticello. and i really wanted to model myself and become, if i could, a mentee of the historian who were doing this kind of preservation work best. pretty amazing. and i got to tell you your story resonates with me because my family had been having family reunions for generations every two years. and i remember that i was the designated historian to pick up the mantle. and i found a letter i sent to my aunt and i said, i don't have time i'm trying to graduate from college. it didn't matter. it didn't matter.
now they designate you. and so, you know, here we are. and it's a pretty powerful story. i also love about what you said is, the fact that monticello was already engaged in this work, which is what brought you to monticello to have that sleepover? that's right. and i have to live up lift up the name again of elizabeth chew, because she really was part of that. i had the good fortune of working with our on the pre building exhibition that my museum did on monticello and slavery at monticello the paradox of liberty. so, you know, hats off to monticello for digging in and doing that work early on. let me ask you if you could briefly say what opportunities and challenges come with working at a historic site different from working in the classroom? and how do you incorporate your teaching experience into your public history work? helping students in? did the public learn emphasis on the word learn about the lives of african-american ones held in bondage at monticello, part of
jefferson's enterprise of slavery, including the controversy sent to the nation, their humanity and their own pursuit of freedom. well, i don't have to give anybody detention anymore. but, you know, i taught middle school and high school. i taught undergraduate as well. and retrospectively, when i was growing up, my my my grandfather, my grandmother had a competition. my grandfather said he's going to be a writer. and my grandmother said he's going to be a teacher. and they were both right. but they really kind of battled it out when was coming up. and i went into the classroom because i could look back and say my family were born into into slavery. in 1850, my grandmother's grandfather, he's listed as being illiterate in the 1870 census. he and his wife's he his wife sent ten of their children to hbcus. they all graduated. they became medical doctors and
lawyers and social workers and teachers and hp schools are historically black colleges and universities think. thank you. yes, howard and hampton and shaw and harry and what i could see retrospectively, even when i was in my early twenties, was that that jump in one generation from illiteracy in 1870 to college graduates just 25 or 30 years after, was it set my family up for and it set me up for success. you know, growing up in the nineties and into the 2000. and so i wanted to to give back and that's probably too much of a of a long story, but basically i had a passion for teaching history in the classroom. i still have that passion and i have a passion to share that too, because i feel as if sharing my story and sharing the stories of research that i learned with others may help you on your journey, whatever journey that may be. and at monticello, i think the best way to do that and i've
heard that over and over again as various individuals have stepped up here to talk about their own institutions. the best way to do that is through stories, hands down. there's there's no question people connect other people. it's not the technology. it's not necessarily the panels. it's not the furniture. although maybe it's it excites some people. but the reason why you've returned as a visitor is to have this engagement to to feel to feel history, to hear it. and so in terms of that kind of love for education, and i think often of the story of peter foster, who i described earlier, who was 11 years old when he's sold away from a cello after jefferson's death in january 18, 27. and he is one of ten siblings. his father had tried to he was free to jefferson's world. joseph fossett is a blacksmith and he has spent years it's clear it's been years preparing for this momentous, terrible, tragic occasion. he knew jefferson would die, so
he tried to save up as much money as he possibly could. that way he because he knew he would be free. but he knew his children and his wife would not. he spends years saving up money to purchase them. peter is one of the children who is purchased by a white person in charlottesville who reneges on the deal to free him. so peter fossett has the experience. 24 more years of slavery. but fossett describes his own love for education. he resolved to get free or die in the attempt as he said. and there's stories of peter fossett learning to read by candlelight and teaching others how to learn to read and write by candlelight and that is, i feel like a metaphor for what we are engaged in on a cello. we are teaching each other. we are learning from one another by the light of the truth. i like that you said about people connect with other people. but the other thing is what you just described is it's this value system of education. it's right. it's this this this human
understanding of freedom. and it transcends race. so often we talk about this history in a segregated way. there's the black people's history. there's the white people say is true, but is the shared history. and so these common themes, common values in it in enables us in our different institutions to be able to talk about them in a way that resonates with everyone, not any one particular group that's right. i appreciate what you shared. i want to speak to lena for a minute and we're really excited to have lena on the panel as well. and she works here. the white house historical association. and so i'll ask you as well, just briefly what brought you to doing this work? and you have a really interesting background all the different topics that you are credentialed in and so i would love to hear more about that. and i'll ask you about that
momentarily. but if you could explain brought you to this work. yeah. also, just to start, i apologize for stepping away. i'm having a small allergic reaction. so i do apologize. but feel free if you have to step away or ask me, feel free. yeah. we're going to drag matt up. yeah, i figure that's people that can step in. yeah, i have my epipen. a great offer. yeah. so what brought to this work? sort of a roundabout way as we'll talk about in a second. i originally wanted to be an environmental historian and i also wanted to work with the national park service. i tried that out for a little while, but it didn't feel like a very sustainable career. i was stuck in this sort of cycle of seasonal, and so i returned to grad school and came back to d.c. and in my previous work in college and afterwards i was really focused on this idea of place and people and places and what draws a person to an environment? how do they interact with the land that they live on? what ties people? because i always i always thought like, well, why wouldn't
you just move away? i wanted to evaluate that. and then i found myself when i was working out west being like, oh, i also am drawn to a place i'm drawn to this place where i grew up. i'm from maryland. i studied in southern maryland at saint mary's city. and i started to really think about all of these connections to all these places that i had been. and i was like, well, d.c. and maryland, that is sort of my place. and i've been able to tie in my all of my research in maryland, growing up in maryland and particularly southern, southern maryland and all of the plantations down there. and i've been able to tie that into my work with slavery research and the white house. and most of all, i want to tell the story of the people in place that built and worked in the white house under tremendously awful and terrible conditions. and yet those people have been so essential to creating this country and to really establishing where we are today.
it wouldn't be without people. edith hearne. fawcett and ursula granger hughes and john and gracie bradley and all of these different individuals, all of them are so important to the american story and so am so honored to tell their stories i love that you name three monetarily connected to okay okay. one of the folks that lena mentioned is edith hearne fawcett. she's peter fawcett's mother, who was a chef in this was a cook in the white house. and when she received her freedom, when her husband purchased, her she moved to ohio. and, of course, establishes a catering company. so, of course, it all comes back to money. well, he did keep going for good. they're all connected. yeah, we're all family up here. that's right. now, i love what you said, lena. and i am also a marylander. and, you know, in doing the research about the site where the museum is located and also thinking about the recent
insight about the enslaved folks who were at georgetown university and then sold to louisiana and getting people understand the landscape of slavery and freedom here and that this is carved out the colony of maryland. right, exactly so very important. maryland being a catholic colony. so really interesting. and important to, make the connections, connect those dots your academic training, as i said, is pretty interesting. so how do you bring the mix of history anthropology, environmental museum studies and, public history to bear in your work? and how does it inform your research approach and help you uncover stories of enslaved and free african-americans working at and associated with the white house? yeah, so i learned pretty early on. i've always been frustrated by this fact. you have like historians doing one thing and you have archeologists doing another thing and it feels like they're not talking to each other, or at least it has in the past.
i think we're getting a lot better at that. and so when i was in college doing this environmental work and then i was bringing in like a scientific element to i was like, oh, we really need all of these different groups of people to talk, all of these different professionals. everyone has insight that we can all bring together. and that's sort of what drew me in the direction of public history. you know, the idea of working with a wide group of people. and so when we started the work for slavery in the president's neighborhood the initiative that we run it sort of came out of michelle obama's famous dnc convention in 2016, where she says, i wake up every morning in a house, was built by slaves that sort of inspired our research here at the association. and when i dived in on this research and our team started working on it. then, you know, looking at the records, the records are incomplete. they're created by wealthy white men for the most part, especially if you're looking the national archives. all of that stuff is not really
inclusive. and so there are stories that are missing, voices that aren't quite there. and so you have to think creatively. and so i found myself really turning to some of those other fields that i've been involved. for example, when i was doing about the construction of the white house, i a list of names of enslaved people primarily just their first names. and i have a list their enslavers and i was like, what could we learn from this? what can it tell us? and so i thought about it a little bit and i wasn't really getting anywhere. and then i was like, oh, well, what if we look at it from the perspective of the land itself? where is this labor force being drawn from? and so then i started tracking and i had gone to college in southern maryland, which actually a lot of the labor force was drawn from. so charles county, st mary's, pg county is where the primary enslaved individuals are taken from to work on the capitol, in the white house and i started mapping where are they going? where are the enslavers located? and that helped to create a really interesting thing, a view
of where is this labor force coming from and primarily the large regional in addition to southern maryland also virginia as well, and some local in the d.c. area, too. you know what's interesting about that, too, is and i have a question on here that i'm sure will come up later if i look back at it. but i'm going to start with it now. is that by extending reach, extending your research further out, we talk about and i often say this and matthew taught with descendants is not a buzz word for black people and so history is a shared history and history includes enslaved people, free black people, old indigenous people, poor white people, yeoman white farmers and planter, elite. and so by extending out you, you almost have you come across records of other people. and this notion of people being
in close proximity to each other, what the impact with this you interaction and then even the interaction here in close proximity to power right so i find that really fascinating. i really appreciate that you extended that reach out, although it's obvious it was necessary. yeah, i love that you have a particular interest in local and regional history in the white house was a site of slavery and freedom located in the seat of power. washington in a landscape again as i said, of slavery freedom. you're currently working on the important, as you said, white house historical associations, initiative, slavery, the president's neighborhood, such a great name. what is your approach to researching and telling the local story? the neighborhood story of slavery, freedom associated with such a powerful national and global site of power, slavery and freedom? and i'd like you to answer that. but if if either you know andrew
or sarah, if you have anything else you'd like to about those discussions about taking these sites, but also thinking about it not just nationally, but locally as well. yeah, i think that addition of that local element is something that's been really important for myself and my colleagues at the association. and of course, originally we started the white house itself, but quickly realized that in of this research on construction and where labor force is being drawn from, it's really all over the city. and as the city is being constructed, this is happening and also here we have our headquarters at decatur house, which is also a site of enslavement and. there's a story to be told there about freedom. so i think the white house sort of a focal point, but this concept of slavery in dc, in this paradoxical relationship, slavery and freedom that exists is really relevant, not just dc, but the united as a whole. and i think for us, the association, you know, we're a bit of a hybrid institution where we don't have a specific
museum, we don't really have archival collections, but we can do well. is do we have a website, an online and also can engage the local community to. in the past we focused more on a national audience but i think there's a lot be had right here. and i was inspired earlier by michael from lincoln's cottage doing that that program with the poetry slam, with the students. so i think that that's really great and i would love to incorporate as we move and come out of this pandemic more programming with local institutions. and we've made some strides to do that. we're trying to get more involved with like the dc history center, but i think all sorts of community based things well to inform people about where they're what's the history of their city, i think is really important. yeah, that's really great. and i about the we talked about the enslaved workers but also free black people who were working alongside paige and
european immigrants right. you know, again, it's just it's rich with a lot information about that human experience. so i really appreciate you all taking the approach you have you look like you were going to say something fair. well, it just really i there's like two sides and i think both both lena and andrew are talking this, too. there's the the place based and then there's the personal and and the real key that i see is using those to tell personal stories that reflect fact. the larger us history that we're sharing. and sometimes that takes a little bit of creativity in understanding someone's perspective. you know, i'll think of an example of the personal story that we, for so long i think, have fallen into or, you know, generation wise have fallen into using the historical records
that are easy. and those are often the elite writers, as we know. so we can say a lot more about elite people felt or observed and, so forth. and so sometimes we have to in those personal stories. so, you know, there was a period at highland our research discoveries, our new exhibitions where we had to tell the story in other ways. and we did that through an augmented reality experience. and, you know, one of the ways we share the way we introduced the guest house, which we know now, is not a part of the main, is not from me, the archaeologist or monroe, having commanded that it being built. but the story of of the enslaved men and george who built it and we introduced that in this particular case by nelson and and enslaved blacksmith and
hannah an enslaved cook having a conversation about peter and george and about what their experience must have been like at highland while their wives charity and and were here in northern virginia at oak hill. and so the story becomes their experience, even though we're telling the story of the place it's told a perspective that it would be obvious for me to talk about the discovery would be obvious to about monroe was president so we needed this but let's think more deeply about whose story can we share by saying, well, this guesthouse was built by these men and this was their experience doing it and that of their wives. so those personal stories can tell place. yeah and i really i like that because again you're just talking about their labor you're not just talking about the structure itself and the materiality of the structure and what it took and the presidency that exactly exact.
yeah. so it opens the door to talk about their humanity as we've been. and sometimes we have to imagine that empathetically within the historical knowledge that we have. right. well and thank you for that. thank you all of you. i'm going to give these next few questions. all three of you, anyone can chime in to. important studies were recently published including communicating about challenges, opportunities and emerging recommendations which produced by the american association for state and local history in partnership with the national council on public history and the organization of american. and it was funded by the andrew mellon foundation. also history, the past and public culture, a national survey produced by the american historical association in partnership with fairlie dickinson university, funded by the national endowment for the humanities. these studies show that most americans trust and look to
museums and historic sites to get their history knowing this what responsibility do we as practitioners have to tell a more complex that speaks to the development of the nation and again the human at your respective. i would think that it's not just a responsibility, it's a moral response ability, particularly in doing this kind of practices, sites of historic sites, enslavement. so with jefferson and monticello, we have to remember that jefferson is a thinker and one of the greatest thinkers of the enlightenment, but that he had serious, serious flaws. and how he thought about other people. and believe me, he othered others. right. he believed in racial inferiority. he believed white european individuals were the top of a human hierarchy, that the native americans fell beneath that. and then people of african
descent fell beneath even that. and of course, he espouses this in in not just in his personal, but also in notes on the state of which became one of the early american bestsellers after its publication. and ibram kendi talks about this in stanford beginning how notes on the state of virginia went viral. and that's where jefferson describes of course, his his belief in the in future. we already of of people of african descent. and so because we work at monticello because we have visitors to monticello, we need to describe these serious discrepancies in the horrors in jefferson's thinking, because we all have inherited it. if we're talking about a bestseller that went viral in the 19th century, that's popular knowledge. and we now live with the legacies of race and racism, this country. so we have a moral obligation to teach ourselves out of this history. right? notes is jefferson's attempt to decouple the the natural rights
tenants express the declaration independence from other from non-white americans. that's that's his attempt and that's an idea put forth by the story in our forbes most recently is edition of the notes on the state of virginia. so because jefferson is a curator of his his own best ed, you know, he's a beautiful writer. and of course, writers are quite good, quite good editors, quite good as as editors jefferson wished to dismiss. he did everything he possibly could to dismiss black opinion about him. okay. he so in a late letter to james madison, he says, take care of when dead. he's very aware of his legacy. he's putting this propaganda out into the world saying believe me, my story, my perspective and do not believe other perspectives. right. of course, he doesn't mention sally hemings in his letters or if he does, he burns them or his family burns them. later. so we have now that we know this
history, we must address it. we must our way out it and course we must ask new questions along the way so i would add, well, when i was growing up and i was taking history classes. i was a person, i was very drawn to history naturally. but i've heard from so many people over the years when i say oh, i'm a public historian and they're like, oh, well, good for you. i could never do that. history is so boring. that's what they all say. it was so boring. and i say, that's crazy. it's interesting. there's so many stories about humanity and you know, people, stories about people. and that's the most interesting to me. but i really think and i can identify this that there is just we're not getting the right stories told and enough of them. so people aren't seeing themselves reflected in those stories. and i think it's the job of museum organizations to look like american people, to reflect
that, to be a diverse museum organization so that you can tell diverse stories to the american people so that they see themselves and their families reflected and their communities reflected and their sense of place. so all of that, i think, is really important. and i agree that we do have this moral obligation to a fuller picture to people, and i do think that history is extremely interesting if it's told right. and if it's told in an engaging way. and so that's my is that we can bring it to a wider variety of people and by saying tell it being told right, it's not i mean we have to authenticate we have to go to the primary source. that's right. right. doesn't mean right as in this is the right story because i think of part of what we do is, we give information and we we don't tell how to think. we simply them to think so we
give them more information so they can really be more thoughtful about how we got to where we are and and think about the world they want to create and how to get there. i love it. thank you. sarah, did you want to add to that? yeah, i was thinking as a follow up that it was talking about how we were doing it. right. how can we be most effective? and so one of the asl publications, for example, invites us, the practitioners, to to open the doors to the public and consider it inviting them into the detective work of, discovering a new and more complex histories. and so if we it's kind like people looking over the archaeologists shoulder, you know, if we show them, you know, here's how we discovered or here's this kernel of information, here's this trail, the archive that's interesting. you know, i bet everybody's interested in doing history
sometimes i'm going to say it and reading history can be a little less interesting, but. and that's on us, too, right? we need to keep that excitement going. but the doing it, i can't see how that is. it isn't exciting. and so, you know, i think we have that role. we are the public interface in making sure convey that exciting part. those interesting research stories even if they are the long hours in the archive and connecting the dots and putting together the family stories and the and the scarce docu moments. you know, there's that detective that's interesting and, if we can share with, enthuses as those discoveries i think we're moving in making our friends realize how exciting it actually is. i believe to your point, those reports also identify many of
the people surveyed said that they really shows like henry louis gates is, you know, genealogical show, you know, and the history detective, things like that, exactly what you're talking about. and at my museum, at the national museum of african american history and culture, we just created a digital humanities called the searchable museum. that platform, we have a feature called how we know what we know, because we knew people would say, well, you know, where did you get what's the source and how did you figure this out? so the other is we wanted people to understand the methodology that goes into this work. so under how we know what we know, we include oral history, we include genealogy, we include archeology both both terrestrial maritime. we include statistical data databases, and we include so much more of the archival records. and just to help people understand how these sources help us authenticate this
history and also hope to excite the learning young people that might want to get into those fields, young and old. and i so, you know, marcelo, i'm going to use monticello in this instance has been involved in the work of more inclusive storytelling from as early as the 1990s for each for each of respective sites. what was the intent when it was decided there was going to be an effort to tell more inclusive story and was it received and why do you think there was or is any resistance to telling more inclusive story? and if you know the intent, because it was so early on, that's fine. but how has it been received? how was it received? do you all know any background on changing over time in attitudes towards new approach to storytelling and prioritizing work? yeah, if i can, i'll take that
one. the project that kind of kicked all of my nachos inclusive storytelling off the ground was is the getting word project it was founded 29 years ago 1993 by historian stanton. her nickname is cinder and now i see. and that cinder is among the most impactful american historians of the late 20th century. that's certainly the case. i'll tell you why in a moment. but she partnered with dr. diane swann right. and much of the story has to do with hiring and who is doing this kind of work. dr. diane swann, right. was a doctoral candidate at uva, a folklorist, and the two of them and one world historian, diane and research historian center came together to begin interviewing descendants in chillicothe, ohio. chillicothe, ohio is where descendants of where madison hemings, the son of sally
hemings, thomas jefferson, relocated from central virginia to ohio in the 1830s. and there's still a in southern ohio where madison hemings went that is connected geologically to two central virginia and to monitor yellow itself. so that's the kind of the story that i know 93 is when this project begins, these two pioneering historians come together to begin asking these new questions. synder had been at monticello for 25 years, a full generation, and she will admit publicly that she never thought about where people went. she never really gave to thoughts about where enslaved people went or who they were or what have you. and with the hiring of dr. diane swann. right, who is african-american woman from, central virginia, buckingham county, diane said, we have to go do this work. and cindy said, of course, yes, you're right we have to do this work, but now they look and i can see your i can see dozens of letters from people, local and
national descendants who now i know are connected because we have done this work previously. but they're asking in the fifties, in the 1950s, 1960s, seventies, eighties into the nineties, before this project is founded. so it is the people asking the institution, basically begging or demanding that the institution do this kind of inclusive storytelling. they're saying this is our family history. you might want to know this and. we did not, as an institution, pay much attention if any attention at all. we dismissed those stories mainly because, i believe, the leaders of the institution at that time, like most americans, did not want to believe the story of jefferson's paternity with at six of sally hemings children. so that was the intent, as i understand it, 93. but there's this whole kind undercurrent of demand from the people, from americans asking for this new inclusive storytelling. what was the reception? well, if you were around in the mid-nineties into the late nineties, you know, that there was a national conversation
about thomas jefferson in the still frankly continues to this day. but it specifically about jefferson's paternity with sally hemings children and wasn't until truly annette gordon-reed the book thomas jefferson and sally hemings an american controversy, which came out in 1997 that we truly had this kind of groundswell of public opinion that now we understand 25 years later is acceptance is now popular, is widespread. the popular academic take and the consensus in the united states is that jefferson children with sally hemings there and but at time in the nineties even today a great deal of resistance. annette gordon-reed professor. annette gordon-reed received two tremendous amounts of verbal and backlash, and she said that this is precisely the way that americans have been taught to react to black people's words. and this is the problem of how we got here in the first place. i think, you know, as i, i
really appreciate that you took us back the 1990s and when that started and the that when you say americans are talking about the descendants of the enslaved at that time that context but also the response of people who did not want to hear this history and not just regarding the paternal, but also kind of change the dynamic of the oppression of jefferson as a founding father. right. and it's an interesting thing because as notion of whether it's jefferson, monroe, madison or washing tin, this idea that you can still have people who are brilliant and have created a built this nation created the structure of this nation, but have have flaws when it comes to thinking about the humanity of others.
and so, you know, it's not something that have to shy away from but obvious least it was met with tension. was there anything happened with highland along those lines? well, there had been prior to my arrival which was 2012, some research, including under standing, who was enslaved there during monroe's time. and that work had initially been done in the nineties and it hadn't really gotten into the canon of what highland did, but actually the part of the the issue with my site was that there really wasn't a canon when i got there that the stuff was minuscule and we really were at a ebb of, of staffing and funding. and so really i had reach in and pull some of that out and it wasn't as much about pushing resistance, but doing it making more funds and more staff available. and so we've done plenty of
documentary work since i've got there. we've rekindled relationships. the descendant community, there had been some prior to me that had not been continued and passed out, and so i really revived that and embraced that interest. and in terms of of the public pushing back, i kind of read as part of your quest and i always try to look inward first and look at our role as public historians or preservation professionals and say, what role have we played in creating the public perception that exists? and mean we, you know, generationally and we have for generations been creating certain stories about american
right and who are we talking and in what contexts and so we've established these narratives that now we're asking people to think critically about and we're kind of upending them with work we're doing. and by that examination, i'm looking a little bit empathetically at people who are racist and then thinking, how can i them to come forward with us? right. we did all this great work, you know, for however many years, making people think certain stories. and now we're like, oh, sorry, changed our mind. we have better knowledge. now we have a wider scope it's more truthful history and they're like, wait, what? you just were teaching us this other story. and so it's not to allow them to continue in that path that we inadvertently created, but to understand they're coming from. and then use our powers for the good. we're here. we are bringing our historian
skills and our public interfaces into creating new stories and encouraging people to sort of look over our shoulders in the archive, in the archaeology, so forth too. so just being empathetic about how someone why someone's thinking the way they are, how they're resisting, the stories that they have held dear because we asked them to. i'm glad you said that. and lee and i'm going to give you a chance to make comment. i know we have a we want to have a few minutes for questions, but i do want to share this, that there's what you said makes me think of of two things. one, in my museum, when people come, you see a diversity of people and collectively they say, how can we never learn this collectively? they say how black people, white people and you know, collectively, how come we never learn that? and some feel very mad about the
fact that they didn't learn certain history, history in a certain way. right. and then the the other thing is my personal research. i went down to mississippi in 2005. my family hadn't gone since 1890 when they had been enslaved. they've gained their freedom, fought for the right to vote, to enforce the right to vote during reconstruction, got into a confrontation with the klan. it didn't work out well for the klan. my family left on foot and went to indian territory where they were very successful when. i said i was going to mississippi to find out this family history. my family members were like, you sure you want to do that? but what i will say is that the white community members, when i went down there and they found what my purpose was for being there, they said, you know what, whatever you let us know, because when you find out, you're history, we find out our history. and it is true. and so we say this is a shared it's not a segregated history.
it's a shared history. and the more you know, the more you grow right. so, lena, i want to give you the last comment and then we'll start to open it up because we've been running our mouths enough. yeah, i will say the intent behind our slavery in the presence neighborhood initiative is to really entwine stories of enslaved people back with the narrative of presidents and first families, first ladies, all of that. and it's been really interesting doing this work because a lot of times obviously people focus on the early presidents like, you know, george washington, thomas jefferson, james monroe, of course but also there's some later presidents well, like james kay, pokey, trafficked enslaved children during his presidency. and that's documented. but he also kept it secret specifically during that time period. so there's later presidents as a total of nine presidents used in slave labor at the white house, 12 total presidents owned, enslaved people at some point in their lives including surprising
people like ulysses grant. so knowing all of that, bringing this story to the public does, of course, have a little of backlash. it's also been interesting because we launched our initiative in february of 2020, a month before the pandemic. so in terms of our face to face with the public, it's been limited. so far. but seeing the comments people leave online, people emboldened online. but a lot of the things that i see are that of why didn't i know this? but also people that are like, well, slavery's over now. so why do i need to learn about this? and so think just meeting people where they are. if you can just plant a seed and you know, even if they're not totally receptive to it, they might, you know, and even if they're combative in the moment, they might go back and sit with and really think it over. i know i do that if i'm confronted with something, you know, sometimes you get defensive in the moment, but then you can take it with you and unpack it later. so that's sort of what i hope people will take away, and i
hope that that will continue. well, i think the other part about that is that it's also not just teaching this history to just talk about this is what these presidents did. it's also, as sarah has emphasized and all of you have emphasized, it's also to talk about the enslaved people themselves and even free black people to say this is what they did this is the landscape helped improve. this is. the the things that they did to create a lifestyle, to enable a person to sit and be about writing the constitution and the declaration of independence and all these other things. right. and it's also about what they did in terms of having children, raising families, having faith systems. so it's not just to emphasize the president's did this. it's to emphasize who are these people and what did they do as well? so i want to thank all, first of all, for being so engaging and wonderful and insightful and sharing all your wealth of
information and then also open up the floor to our wonderful if you have any questions, unless we talk so much, you don't have an yes, right? i want to say just thank you so much. this is an interview and amazing session and really resonated with me because of a project that i've been working on. and i wanted to ask you about sources. maybe both mary and lena. and so i'm an architect. i've been on a project for about the last five years addressing the ali network in washington, which are very, very interesting places of occupation and habitation and racially very mixed for much of their history. but we so we have these public outreach events where. we take people through alleys and sort of expose some of the history that they're not aware of. but we run into a wall for finding sources. the stories of these people like
kind of like 1870 actually a little bit further and so when you mentioned you were able to like access records of laborers whether they were enslaved or free where do you find this? i wish i had a better answer for you. i feel like i get a little bit spoiled because the white house, a lot of the documentation is within the national archives, etc.. so like in terms of construction of the white house, all those records in narrow. so that's nice for me. but like i said, i did a lot of when i was doing research about the enslavers themselves and where they were located, i ended up using a lot of records from maryland state archive records, probate records have been really, really great. and for example, i had found a there was a receipt of in slave labor is getting shoes by these five sisters brent family these brent sisters they all had hired
their enslaved people to build the white house. and then i ended up looking into the probate records, and i discovered that their father had left these enslaved people to them in the will and that connection is really rare. but was really cool to see. like you could see the names match up from what was listed in this probate record to the names listed on this receipt for cobblers shoes. so you do have to get creative with it. yeah, i don't know. i'm sorry. i don't have a better answer. you, but yeah. one of the things i'm trying source or find or property who rented housing to people on the alleys before the alley housing was eliminated. so that's actually that's a really good idea but you might check the newspaper as well. yeah. yeah. and then also at the national museum of african american history and culture, we have a robert smith center on family and genealogy. and they can also help you with identifying some really strong
sources. and there is a new gentleman who i'm really excited to share. lopez matthews who is the new archivist, washington, dc and i know he's just started. he's formerly the he worked at howard university as well, and he's extremely well versed and he might be able to give you some insight. and then also you can get in touch with me. i have a colleague, williams, who actually produced the africa archive combining all of these different archival, you know, repository to bring together history on the local history, washington, dc. and so i'm happy to put you in touch with her. sure, yes. hi, david fisher, thank you so much for the panel. fascinating discussion for andrew and for sarah. i'm going to ask you maybe to speculate for a moment. we've talked about we've talked about monroe. we've talked about madison, i
think, all in their own ways have predicted slavery would go away eventually. i think they also would have predict it and did predict in many ways that blacks and whites could not live together in that society at all. that would be perhaps insurmountable and that was some of the colonization movement was somewhat behind that i'm interested what you think they would think of race relations means today. you know i think they would have not been surprised that we had a civil war. i think they would not have been surprised that we had jim crow for another 100 years or so. i'm interested what you think given your knowledge of of those individuals, would do you think they would be pleased surprised what facets of where we are 2020 to what do you think and monroe would think about that that. i think that today 2022 this
room filled with so many different people, various ethnicities, backgrounds, it would have been unimaginable. i think, to jefferson. and that's something that the nick gordon-reed describes that that this multiracial united states truly was beyond his comprehension and believe when rose as well. now on the flip side of that, i mean, i don't think that he would have truly appreciated there are a few descendants of people enslaved at monticello who work at monticello today. jefferson the history you know that's that idea of madison taking care of him. when did madison didn't do too good of a job of that but but speaking seriously i think that with jefferson in particular there's there is always the hope for future even beyond i think i would venture this even beyond his enormous limitations. i think the is what i've described. i think there's the possibility there certainly for his vision
of the united states for it to turn out a little bit differently than his precise idea for how it should look. yeah, that was beautifully said. i think that hope for the future expresses a lot and i think certainly the the founding generation in a lot of ways even though we are not where we think we should be yet we are still the america they were afraid of, which on the one hand, but on the other hand, we're the america that they worked hard for and really tried to create you know they looking at monroe you think what was his driving principle it was national unity. the fact that we have survived this long think he would just be just delighted to see that his life's work continues. although the the equality, however imperfect it is right now. you know i often think about it just from my own perspective about what what would these
founders think of me, a woman doing the work i do. that would be enough of a shock, a threat, right. and i think the ratio or. i has to even to say equality before, you know, every every step we're working towards that that would they were afraid of that and they in measures to prevent that and i'm sorry to say that because they also great things that the foundation of the nation be where it is today so it's both right but i think you know from monroe's perspective you would be delighted that our country still stands and i would hope and i'm going to just trust that once they got their head around, they would see their way to seeing that we are a better country, racial than we were then.
even though the first reaction would be that, you know, the fear, the sending to liberia was to avoid what we have now. right. that's a hard answer, but it's also there is like andrew's kernel of hope in it. but i mean, what you just said you know, there's the issue of race, the issue of gender. how have you and i just talked about the issue of class and, the example i gave to a lot of people is pennsylvania if a black man was free who owned land could vote until 1838, a man who was free, who did not own land, could not. but 1838, that changed. those are those nuances that people when they come through our sites go, how come i didn't learn that, you know, why am i just now finding it out right. and happened in 1838 that all of a sudden it changed. and so to your point, your
question too is it's not just gender. it's not race is also class. and so what is happening now in this more inclusive storytelling is all of us have to go back home and go wait a what? we're not. yeah, we got to do this. now, that happened and it changed and that there's some things going on right now but how do i want world to look and how do make it look that way. and i have this right to vote how do i exercise that and who else should be exercising it so i can get all the votes i need so i can get this age, all of that. this is not just storytelling for the sake of telling. no, it's not there's a point. and again, we don't tell everyone how to think. we just ask people think brilliant. yeah and we have a really rich history. we have to celebrate it. and also you know, analyze it.
yes. you know, scrutinize it. yeah. so this has been really exciting and wonderful and full. and i trust that if you have more questions, my superstar panelists will be available to makeistory. well from time to time here on american history tv, we like to look at what we call history in the news and one of those historic topics that is part of our current political debate is the senate filibuster. where did it start? where is it going? should it remain in its current form? well joining us to help look at the history of the filibuster is scot