tv Gayle Jessup White Reclamation CSPAN June 21, 2022 4:27am-5:02am EDT
more at cspan.org/history. i am leslie greene bowman the president of the thomas jefferson foundation and it is my great and distinct pleasure to welcome you this evening as we celebrate the launch of gayle jessup white reclamation sally hemmings. thomas jefferson and a descendants search for her family's lasting legacy. and before we get started, i want to welcome a very special guest who's with here tonight. who's with us? we are greatly honored that the first lady of virginia. here tonight with us. thank you. many of you know that gail had a
long and successful journalism career. before she turned her sights. thank god she did to monticello. she came to us in 2016 as our first public relations and community engagement officer. and it's my delight to welcome her tonight as a colleague. but more importantly as an honored speaker. a common refrain in gail's book is and i quote giving voice to the ancestors. and she does that of course and we try to do that by telling their stories. she describes herself as when i quote a woman whose voice is used as an instrument. not for herself but for those written out of history. a woman who after a lifelong journey founder family her home her purpose end of quote and in
part it was because of monticello's work to find and learn from the descendants of its enslaved community. in a project called getting word. that gale found more of her family and their story gail's courageous telling of her story and that of her family. provides an inspiration to all of us and of course gail's book includes the work she has done here since she joined the staff as our first community engagement officer. for role at monticello is an integral part of her journey and there are times when we're honest accounting of her experience. has taught us about our blind spots. we like many americans are sometimes unaware of those blind spots. and like our nation we need to face them and change them.
through her experiences gail provides a powerful lens into american history in the 20th century and the complicated complex nature of identity and family. while her family's story is a singular one. marked by important personal moments and individuals gail paints a portrait that sheds greater light on the lived experiences of people of color across america. gail's journey is an important one from on a cello and for our country as we work to tell the more honest and of our past. her work and monticello helps us be part of a more inclusive american story. as new york times bestselling author, but kari sellers said in his review of the book reclamation is a quintessential american story. that should be required reading for anyone who doesn't
understand the true contributions of african-american to this nation. and how vital our presence was and remains to the core principles of democracy and freedom and never more than now right now never more than now, please join me in welcoming gail, josephine. thank you leslie for that. thank you for the courage that you've shown. and telling them more inclusive story. of our history so i'm trying really hard not to cry at this moment. i'm so happy to see all of you here. i love you all so much. i have never felt more loved in my life. so having said that i'm going to stick to the script. can everyone hear me? okay, great. first of all this is like the
oscar for me. so we're going to do some thank yous first when i hear the music coming. i know that i've spoken too long. so you'll let me know somebody home, please. i do want to thank my friend mrs. pam northam for being here. it's an honor to have you here. thank you for coming. i also want to thank my friend the honorable judge john charles thomas with being here. thank you so much. and it's beautiful wife. forgive me for calling you beautiful. i'm old fashioned. and link's sister pearl thomas. thank you for being here. so many people are here. i i just i love from washington from richmond from all over. thank you so much. i must make my colleagues gary stanley and i saw you walk in is gary still here. thank you. gary. gary has actually mentored me since i've been here at monticello. i do not have a museum background. and so gary was super helpful.
the ladies who put this event together tonight tasha stand not call her wonderful tasha because she's incredible. making harrington who does such a wonderful job with event planning gen lyon. i have to thank my kenwood family. i see some of my kenwood family here. my daughters whitney and laura who came from the uk early just to be here tonight. thank you so much. i'm so happy that all of you are here my big sisters. i just you know, i'll be here all night naming folks. i must make my publisher harper. and judith kerr who's the president and publisher of harper one? i must have made my editor patrick bass who's so inspirational and so helpful in helping develop this story. and of course my agent the indomitable jennifer harare. she's phenomenal. family and friends family and friends. i love you so much. i just don't know how to express
how appreciative i am and how thankful i am for you and how supportive you have been. for this long journey that i have gone through. it feels like a miracle to me and it feels like a dream that i'm here tonight. of course. decide every good woman. there's a good man and i have to i have to ask my husband. the brilliant the legendary jackie white ginger to please stand jack because you've been remarkable. it's and my son who came from cambridge. he was at cnn with me this morning being my assistant. charles joseph franklin the best son anyone could have thank you so much for putting up with me. they have the only two who know how hard it is to live with me. and of course there are three
women in my life as well who made this possible? my sister janice terry from whom i heard this story for the first time when i was 13 years old. she has walked this journey with me most of my life. she's beautiful. she's glamorous and she's really smart and she's stuck with me throughout this journey. and of course their center stanton who was the founder of the getting murder oral history project? who is a mentor as well and who helped guide me through this process and then on peachy and you'll read about ipg when you read the book without those three women. we would not be here tonight. i would not know the story. i would not have this story. so i'm very very grateful to them and i love them. so. that said have a script. sticking to the script i have a clicker. i'm going to ask for your patients as i have not slept in 48 hours. so there it is reclamation
reclamation. thank you. thank you reclamation sally hemmings thomas jefferson of the descendants search for a family's lasting legacy is part memoir part detective story and part history lesson. it's filled with recollections of a happy youth. growing up in a loving solidly middle class family that appeared unburdened appeared unburdened. by worldly concerns but in fact there was much more going on in our household and was immediately discernible and i write about that there was tension. and i write about that tension is honestly as a possibly can it was difficult. to write this story. and of course, it's honestly as my girlhood diaries would allow i've been a writer for a long time. and the tension was one reason that i was so intrigued when i
first heard the oral history that we were descended from thomas jefferson. and there i am they're 13 years old. when i first heard this family lord, we're going to get off this picture pretty quickly. and i talk about in the first chapter of the book. what it was like when i was 13 years old and heard this story from my sister. and i'm going to point to her. the very glamorous one. janice terry, that's my mom. that's me at 13. and these are my nieces my niece and my nephews. so janice terry is approximately 20 years older than i and she to me was very worldly when i saw her when she returned from asia after having spent years there with her husband. he was a time magazine correspondent. and she was back in the states
explaining to my dad. what her experiences had been and my sister's a big talker, so she was talking for hours and after while i got a a little bored with her. stories not with her but with her stories so i'll go into the kitchen. i'm looking through the refrigerator for a snack. and i hear my sister say and i said we're descending from thomas jefferson. well, i have to tell you i was shocked. i'd never heard the story before can i have imagined as a little black girl growing up in washington dc and a perfectly happy little black girl growing up in washington dc, but we would have been descending from thomas jefferson. so i was really excited when i heard this and it's because he was my favorite president. and it was my favorite president because he written the declaration of independence and i thought that was the most marvelous document ever composed by a human being. i had no idea as a 13 year old girl that thomas jefferson enslaved people. so i could not imagine we weren't taught that in school. were you taught that in school?
no, we weren't taught that so i couldn't imagine how that happened. but i was so intrigued by the story. that i pushed my family to tell me as much as they could about it. and there's it's a long story about janison this information that she conveyed and i would encourage you to about that in the book. what i was able to. ascertain as i explored this story was that my grandmother my father's mother was from charlottesville. now, let me tell you a little bit about my dad. when i first heard this story it seemed incredible to me, but i looked at my dad. my dad was six two. had red hair a freckled face and knows that was straight aside from a slope in his bridge. now those of you who are jefferson scholars know that jefferson had a slope in his
nose. i learned years later. that's the jeffersonian knows so i thought that might be something to destroy me. look at my dad. eventually i learned from my dad that his mother was from charlottesville, virginia. and when i my dad didn't like to talk about this stuff. so when i asked my dad about these stories the first thing he said to me was that's what they say. he wouldn't talk about it. it was months and months and months before daddy finally said to me. well, you know, my mother was from charlotte spell. jefferson was in charlottesville. and he says yes, i know. so he was kind of toying with me just a little bit. i'm going to go back. let me go back to my grandmother. there we are. what i learned from my dad about my grandmother, is that her name? was eva robinson taylor? it could have been robinson. he said it could have been tailored. he wasn't sure.
which name was hers her maiden name and it's because his mother died when he was five years old. so we didn't know much about her. he didn't know what her name was which to me was remarkable because as a 13 year old girl, my dad was as close as you could get to god. i grew up in a household. i grew up in a household. that was like father knows best. my father knew everything and so i just couldn't again i couldn't process how my daddy didn't know the name of his own mother. i couldn't process how we could have been descended from thomas jefferson. none of this made sense to me. but as a child i was a burning journalist. i was very curious so i kept pushing and kept asking. dad said his mother died when he was five years old. he couldn't remember her face. he couldn't remember her voice. and that made the story more compelling for me.
because i wanted to bring my dad some peace. i wanted to help him find his family. i wanted him because i could i know he was in pain. i wanted to feel happy. my grandmother was married to can you guys hear me because i'm good. my grandmother was married to this man arthur jessup. he was a sailor a gunner's maid in the spanish-american war now that might seem kind of amazing to you because i don't look that old do i? well, i came late. i'm just last in a family of five i was a surprise. and he was quite a remarkable man my dad, of course, of course knew him, but he remarried and once he remarried the history of his first wife practically practically disappeared. and there's another reason. that we lost a lot of that history. my dad had five sisters.
you're two of them. louise and thelma that's really their names. louise is the oldest in this thelma. to other sisters already and carry their beautiful children arguing there was a fifth sister. we don't have a picture of her helena. and then we have this picture. they were devout catholics. i'm going to point out. well, i was hoping to point out. give me one second, please. you know charles, you know, i might to come help me. there's a pointer. there's thelma. there's louise who was quite tall. and this is already. and this is the last picture taken of those girls. those are the three girls. who were confirmed on that date april 15th 1915 and what's the
last picture of them because all five sisters died? they all died. from tuberculosis as did my father's mother. so you can imagine. when dad revealed these stories to me how difficult it was for him and how difficult it was for me. that's why we lost the history. he didn't want to talk about it. it hurt too much. but i needed to know i needed to know. so i go off i become a journalist move away for a few years. i come back home. oh, there's one more picture. i want to show you. i love these pictures. this is my uncle eugene. only the only the two boys survived uncle eugene and this is my dad. it's very odd when i know when when you you know, your dad as your dad a mature, man, and then you see this baby and you it is something in congress about there's some kind of cognitive dissonance there, but there's my
dad so i go off. i become a journalist. i come back home after a few years. and my dad takes me to see my uncle well, he remembers a little more about my grandmother because he was older when my grandmother died and he was very generous with me and the information he shared and this is a picture the last time i saw my this the tall one is my dad and there's my uncle eugene. he shared a lot of information with me and what we discovered what he shared with me. was that my grandmother who would have been the jefferson descendant was six feet tall. she had long straight hair hanging down her back. she was very sweet. she played the piano and she sang. and she cooked he said well a little boy would remember that his mother was sweet and cook. but it's the six feet tall that kind of stuck with me. once again, we know that jefferson was tall. on this occasion my uncle shared with me the pictures you just
saw. and this item? this bible the date on the bible as you can see is 1821 in the initials are dt. so i kind of got stuck on the tv there and i'm thinking that must mean thomas. gotta be thomas. i said i was a journalist. i did not say i was a good journalist. of course. it's tailor. it's tailor. it took us understand. to say right gail. look at this and i started to her it's that's the taylor family. so now now we call this the taylor bible. and my uncle bequeath this bible to me along with those pictures. you just saw some very grateful to him and to my cousins who actually honored that because had i been in his shoes. i would never have turned over those items. my uncle also shared with me this photograph. now, this is my grandmother's sister.
and you can see how fabulous she is. this woman lived as a white woman. which is why i'm not sure of her name. because she left her family and here's the story behind us. my grandfather said that when my grandmother became ill and died and all four girls died with the exception of one caring and the two boys my grand my aunt comes and she she lived in new york and she comes to visit and she says i want these three children to come with me. i want to care for them. she was quite wealthy you can see i want them to come and make sure their educated and i'll care for them and my grandfather of course refused because he lost most of his family. he wanted to everyone near and close. and she said well if in fact you don't allow me to take these children, i will never come back. and she did not come back. we'll listen to what happened. so many years later. my grandmother died in 1920 so
many years later. my parents got a call from new york long distance because this is in the 60 so long distance calls a big deal back then young people. it was a big deal. gets she gets we get this call and the person on the line says there's a woman here who's sick her health is failing. she's a little senile and and she's quite wealthy and people are taking her money and she said she has a nephew named cedric jessup works in the post office. and so mom was the one who answered the phone and mommy says well, yes. my husband is such a jessup and yes, he works in the post office and the woman says, well this she needs help and she says this is her family. and my mother says well is this woman white or to use the language of the time -- and the woman says well this she's white and mom says, but she can't related to us. there goes that history that legacy and my inheritance.
so it's really quite a tragic story though. she lost her family. this is not an uncommon story. for black americans this has happened to many of us to many people in our family how much has been lost? because of the inequities in this country because people had to make such a choice between family. and comfort what they saw as economic comfort and that was her story. so we call her lucy. we think her name was lucy. but it's and i think it's a good guess on that. well, since i've lost my place on my script here. we're just going to have to go with it. so this is me standing on the east side of the building. i started coming to monticello when jack and charles and i left my beloved hometown, washington dc and moved to richmond, virginia. another come to monticello on a very regular basis because honestly, i love monticello.
i love history. i knew my family was associated with this place. i just wasn't sure how. and i would come here quite often and every time we went on the tour the guides would hint to sally hemings and thomas jefferson. well up to this point. i assumed i was related to sally hemings and thomas jefferson because my imagination had not allowed me to wander into any other direction. i just didn't know so i accepted it didn't know how but i accepted it. so we were going the tour and i would raise my hand every time jack was with me the first time and i would say i'm related to sally hemmings of thomas jefferson and the guy said okay good for you. thank you. he keep moving on i did this several times well back in 2010. i came with charles and charles is tall and at this point he was a tall teenager and we took the tour was his first time. we took the tour and i did the same thing because you know, i'm a person of routine and happy. and i raised my hand and i say i'm related to thomas jefferson sally hemmings. and in fact i said we're lady looking up by myself. so we're related to sally hemis
and thomas jefferson and the guy said great your family your dignitaries. let me take you on the private tour when this is over. at last this is happening. and in fact she did unfortunately, i don't know her name it is lost to history and if anyone listening today can remember me being there with my son charles. please let me know because i'm very grateful to you. she took us to the dome room and she was with her first person who introduced us to understand now send it was on vacation at that point, but she said to us as she showed us pictures of thomas jefferson. she said, you know, we have a woman here who does great research about the families and the descendants of being slave. her name is sandra stanton and you think she really be interested in this story. and it turns out she was so in 2014. i started coming even more often then that's when i first met my
friend here the honorable john charles. and i started coming here frequently. and eventually became a fellow. and this is when i first began uncovering how my family might be related to thomas jefferson. and of course with the guidance and help with and and this groundbreaking book those who labor for my happiness about slavery at monticello. and let's see. here's what we discovered. but i'm related to thomas jefferson through his great great grandson. whose name was moncure robinson taylor remember dad said his mother's name was robinson or taylor. he wasn't sure remember i had the bible with the initials dt. jefferson had a great great grandson. he had a lot of great great grandchildren. he had a great great grandson named monk here robinson taylor and it turns out that he was my
great-grandfather. that would have meant of course that i was descended from jefferson and his wife martha. well, skelton. and not from jefferson and sally hemiswell. i've got to tell you i was really disappointed. i really wanted to be a hemmings. eventually with cinders help and going through these documents what you see here in front of us. i discovered that in fact, i am descended from sally hemings are her family and hey sally henry's. my great-grandmother had a brother named peter. then we can see it. this is this is his death certificate. and we see here on the death certificate that his mother's maiden name was sally hammonds. so if you're in the south. and you're saying hem means what's it sound like? hemmens hemmens her name was
sally hemmens. she was named after her famous aunt her now famous aunt. sally hemmings her father was peter hemmings a brother of sally hemings, which means that peter hemmings was my three times great-grandfather. we were doing high fives down there in kenwood. it i was so happy to make that discovery and to find out that i'm a hemis after all. historically speaking. what does this mean? thomas jefferson's father-in-law have relations with a woman named elizabeth hemmings. they had several children together including sally hemmings. and my three times great-grandfather peter hammonds. thomas jefferson had relations with sally hammonds. they had several children together. thomas jefferson's son-in-law
her relations with a hemmings betty hemmings whose ancestors here with us tonight. and after his i should add after his wife died after thomas. jefferson's wife died and my great-grandmother had relations. my great-grandmother who was a hemmings her relations with a jefferson descendant. that's four generations of hemmingses. and people related to the jefferson family entangled with each other by blood. by blood so this is a quintessential american story and part of the history that we tell here at monticello. okay, so i'm not done. mom has done though. this is from the reunion here at monticello. and many of my cousins are here tonight. thank you guys for being here. this is from the 2018 getting
word 25th reunion the largest reunion of its kind of modern history where the descendants of enslake was celebrated. this was our space as my cousin andrew likes to say this was more black space than a white spaceman. jefferson was alive. and we celebrated as such in 2018. this is the groundbreaking exhibition the life of sally hemmings, which in a very respectful way. tells the story of sally hemis through the words of her son. which opened here in 2018 the same weekend that we had that big celebration and i thank my colleagues including you leslie for that phenomenal event and for this extraordinary exhibition and this is my family. this is my family. my mom my dad and three of my siblings. reclamation encapsulates, my family's history my personal and
professional challenges in my own reckoning with race and racism. most of all, it's a knowledge to the people who came before me. my parents cedric into his jessup. the grandparents i never knew and the ancestors was lives were almost forgotten the ancestors to live in labored and monticello. you heard mention on peachy it was through her. she was the one person who carried this story on on peachy could neither read write or even spell her own name, but i'm teaching new. her descendants were related to thomas jefferson. when i'm on the mountain, i'm mulberry row where my ancestors lived and worked. i feel their presence. yes. it was a prison, but it was also their home. they did all they could to carve out. a decent life for themselves we have to think of the enslaved as human beings. who strived as best they could
to find? some hope and we know they did because we're here. we stand on this shoulders and i know you hear that a lot, but it's true. we stand on their shoulders. i am still grateful to them. for who i am. for who we are i think all of you for being here tonight. i love you so much. this has been quite an honor for me. thank you for sharing this story and the discussion and the conversation goes on. so, thank you. fourth grade
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