Produced and Directed by
Shelby Steele and
Shelby Steele, Correspondent
ANNOUNCER: How could the man who wrote these words-
READER: All men are created equal-
ANNOUNCER: -keep over 200 slaves and a black mistress who bore him many
ANNETTE GORDON-REED, Historian: She was responsible for keeping his
room, his bedroom.
ANNOUNCER: Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings.
ANNETTE GORDON-REED: All of her children are named for people in his
ANNOUNCER: Tonight, correspondent Shelby Steele tells the story of love
and denial played out in one family over 200 years.
AMALIA COOPER: My father doesn't look like a black man. I don't think
some of my cousins look like they're black people, either, but they identify
themselves as African-American.
ANNOUNCER: It is a story of blood.
AMALIA COOPER: It split our family apart.
ANNOUNCER: Part black-
AMALIA COOPER: They're behaving as if it's a dirty little secret.
ANNOUNCER: -part white.
AMALIA COOPER: They're afraid that people will stop seeing them as
white and start seeing them as black.
ANNOUNCER: This is the story of Jefferson's Blood.
THERESA SHACKLEFORD: [Monticello Association meeting] There is
not person in there that is evil or racist, but we need knowledge before we can
decide what to do.
LUCIAN TRUSCOTTE: Well, you know what? They never hired a genealogist
on me, and they never took my blood.
THERESA SHACKLEFORD: The one thing I would like to say is-
LUCIAN TRUSCOTTE: Nor did they do it for her!
THERESA SHACKLEFORD: I'm so sorry that you have such little confidence
in your ancestors' integrity, but I-
LUCIAN TRUSCOTTE: I have very little faith in the Monticello
Association because they have-
SHELBY STEELE, Correspondent: [voice-over] In November, 1998,
blood tests all but confirmed that Thomas Jefferson had a long relationship -
and children - with a woman who was his slave. DNA subjected this great man to
a kind of fall.
Rev. THOMAS WOODSON: In these days and times, Thomas Jefferson would
be convicted of rape of a child.
SHELBY STEELE: Jefferson thought more deeply about slavery, understood
its evil more clearly, than any other statesman of his generation. He was 100
years or more ahead of his time.
JOSEPH ELLIS, Historian: You can go back to Jefferson and discover in
him the values that allowed us to reach this moment. But he himself is back
there in the 18th century, and there's a chasm between him and us.
REPORTER: Why DNA in this instance and not in any of the others?
ROBERT GILLESPIE, Monticello Association President: DNA is not the
be-all and end-all. It's a factor-
SHELBY STEELE: Now black descendants are pressing for inclusion in the
Jefferson family association and for the right to be buried in the family's
graveyard. DNA has made both the dead and the living accountable in new
JESSICA PORTERFIELD, Cooper Daughter: My father had a huge secret, and
I think he spent his life, living it to protect that secret.
SHELBY STEELE: This is a story of Thomas Jefferson, his descendants and
the mysterious power of race. Is Jefferson still heroic? Are his descendants
black or white? Does race make family impossible for them? Or can they
comprise a family despite race?
Rev. THOMAS WOODSON: Thomas Jefferson is part of history, and history's
being made today. We're praying that the results will be positive.
SHELBY STEELE: If the central myth of racism were true, if race divided
humans immutably, then people like Rev. Woodson should not exist. But even in
Thomas Jefferson's America, when racism was unimpeachable truth, it could never
quite defeat human attraction. And whether these DNA tests prove him a
Jefferson descendant or not, it's already clear that the blood of at least two
races flows in Thomas Woodson's veins.
Rev. THOMAS WOODSON: A lot of people have perceived me to be white at a
distance. And then when they get up, there would be no question what I was. I
was just who I was, and that was it. I just happened to be light-skinned, and
I couldn't help that. I'm caught in the middle. I'm in limbo.
SHELBY STEELE: Thomas Woodson, like many we will meet in this film, has
skin that troubles people. The racial mingling of his ancestors has made him
Rev. THOMAS WOODSON: I lived in a white neighborhood. I played with
white children. And if one of them got beat up by a black, then I had a
But then, it was a two-fold thing. If I went into the black neighborhood to go
to school, and one of them got beat up by a white, they would call me, you
know, "Hey, you're one of them white niggers." So then there would be a fight.
It was not that it would be my fault, it was just the fact that they had to
have an outward release of anger. And I fit the bill.
SHELBY STEELE: For Dr. Eugene Foster, it all began on a whim. He was
retired when a friend approached him, asking if DNA could settle the Jefferson
question. There'd always been evidence linking Jefferson to his slave, Sally
Hemings, but historians were near unanimous in saying that it couldn't be
Dr. EUGENE FOSTER, DNA Researcher: It's astounding to think that it is
possible to trace one's ancestry back perhaps 5,000 years. It's
SHELBY STEELE: Dr. Foster was after DNA in the Y chromosome, passed
down through men. He approached male descendants of Jefferson's white family.
And he traced a direct descendant of the slave, Sally Hemings. The DNA
Foster is quick to point out that, scientifically, other Jefferson males could
be the father- say, Jefferson's brother or uncle. But a separate study of
Jefferson's Monticello visits finds they coincide so closely to Hemings's
pregnancies that even without DNA, the probability of his being the father is
90 percent or more. With DNA, it is far higher, perhaps 99 percent. Certainly
not proven, but as close to proven as most history ever gets.
The story of the Hemings family, handed down by word of mouth for 200 years,
reaches back before Jefferson. An English sea captain named Hemings, passing
through Williamsburg, fathered a child by an African slave woman. He
acknowledged that the child was his, and tried to buy her. But her owner was
intrigued by this mixing of white and Negro blood. The girl was a curiosity to
him, and he refused to sell.
This much is family lore, but what follows is accepted history. The owner,
John Wayles, was a slave trader and a prominent citizen. The slave girl he
raised was Betty Hemings. After his wife died, Wayles made Betty his mistress
and fathered six children with her. She was half white, her children three
quarters white, but under Virginia law all were slaves.
It makes no sense to me why someone who is three quarters white should be
considered entirely black. But this old Virginia law wasn't after common
sense. Its goal was to make whiteness itself a source of power.
Eighteenth-century America was both a nation and a racial identity. The nation
was committed to freedom, while the racial identity was a formula for power and
exclusion. In the story of Thomas Jefferson and his descendants is a story of
racial identity and its cruel exclusions, played out in one family over 200
In 1743, Thomas Jefferson was born into a central Virginia life that would be
buffered, supported and burdened by slavery from beginning to end.
JOSEPH ELLIS, Historian: Jefferson's earliest recorded memory as a
sentient being is when he was 2 or 3 years old. And he remembers being carried
on a pillow from Tuckahoe, which is a few miles from modern-day Monticello, so
that his first conscious thought is of being taken care of by a slave.
LUCIA STANTON, Jefferson Memorial Foundation: He certainly had a nurse,
an African-American enslaved nurse, who probably sang to him, told him stories.
He- as a child, his playmates were almost certainly young slave boys, probably
even Jupiter, who became his personal servant later, because he had no brothers
anywhere near his own age. So he probably spent a great deal of time in the
midst of this culture that surrounded his house.
But he has left not an inkling of that. Whatever he did take from that went
underground in some way.
SHELBY STEELE: A friend once described Jefferson as a "shadow man." He
was tall and broad-shouldered, easy to meet, but with an eerie calm that made
him hard to know. He was not close to his mother. His father died when he was
But there was always the insatiability that so often goes with genius. At
William and Mary, and while a student of law, he drove himself to read
mathematics, science, the classics in Latin and Greek. His letters from
college reveal a young romantic, self-absorbed, enthralled by the beauty of the
books he's read and the beauty of the women he courts.
It was here in colonial Williamsburg that he immersed himself in the
Enlightenment philosophers and their radical ideas on liberty. After opening
his law practice, he put those ideas to an early test, helping a mulatto slave
sue for freedom with an argument as romantic and daring as Jefferson himself.
"Under the law of nature," he told the court, "all men are born free."
He lost the case, of course, and it set the pattern for all his encounters with
race. This mind, that would have been great in any era, lived in an
18th-century society that was ignorant and primitive where race was concerned.
Race was always the boundary at which America turned from the enlightened to
the primitive. And with time, this boundary would come sharply to life within
But in 1776, it was still the young Jefferson who wrote a fierce condemnation
of the slave trade into the Declaration of Independence. His colleagues in
Congress made him take it out.
JOSEPH ELLIS, Historian: He is on record as believing that the
institution of slavery violates the core principles of the American Revolution,
in fact, violates the words that he himself wrote in the Declaration of
Independence. He says this over and over again.
SHELBY STEELE: Jefferson shared the racist beliefs of his day. Black
inferiority was a given. But he saw how slavery degraded both owner and slave.
He put himself in the minds of blacks, sure they would never forgive all the
wrongs done them. "I tremble for my country," he wrote.
After Independence, he made his boldest move, pushing for a ban against slavery
in any new state.
LUCIA STANTON, Jefferson Memorial Foundation: Had he died in the 1780s,
he would be considered a hero of the anti-slavery movement.
JOSEPH ELLIS: He proposed legislation that would call for the abolition
of any extension of slavery into any of the territories. And if that had
passed, the entire history of the United States would have been quite
SHELBY STEELE: No Virginia delegate voted with Jefferson, and just one
Southerner. Slaves were the most valuable property in America, after land.
And in the South, Jefferson was on his own.
By then he was living on a mountain he called Monticello. He had fallen in
love with John Wayles's daughter, Martha Wayles. The marriage and his
father-in-law's death soon after made him rich. He owned thousands of acres of
Virginia farm country and nearly 200 slaves, among them Betty Hemings and her
WHITE JEFFERSON DESCENDANT: [Monticello meeting] We have some
very important business to discuss, and I think it's totally inappropriate to
have non-members be here at this meeting, and I make this motion.
BLACK JEFFERSON DESCENDANT: How can you discredit 200 years of oral
history when it comes-
SHELBY STEELE: In May, 1999, when black and white descendants gathered
at Monticello for the first time, the conflict fell into a familiar pattern of
black protest and white defensiveness.
BLACK DESCENDANT: When I received the letter from you, I considered it
an invitation because you wanted me here, not because you were doing so out of
WHITE DESCENDANT: We are not trying to be racist, and I'm open to
anything, and a big group of us are open to whatever we can do-
BLACK DESCENDANT: For the record, we will be applying probably through
two descendants, not only through Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, but we
are the nieces and nephews through Martha Wayles's family.
SHELBY STEELE: What makes us confront someone over a 200-year-old
racial wound or defend a great ancestor that even our grandparents didn't know?
I think this happens because our racial and family identities tie us to our
group's past. They fold this past into us as individuals, so that we can feel
yesterday's wounds almost as powerfully as today's.
When Jefferson became ambassador to France in 1784, the most he knew of city
life was 18th-century Philadelphia. But Paris was nearly 20 times that size.
It was a city that mixed glamour and romantic intrigue with intellectual
ferment. It opened to this bookish widower from the frontier a life of the
mind, the senses, and even the heart.
ANNETTE GORDON-REED, Historian: He had a great eye for the scene of
things. And it was just- I can imagine it was like- it was intoxicating to
JOSEPH ELLIS: This is a monarchical society. This is an aristocratic
society, lives by inherited wealth. This is Europe. This is the medieval
world that the United States is being founded to speak against.
SHELBY STEELE: [on-camera] And yet he found-
JOSEPH ELLIS: And yet he loves it. He loves it. He loves it.
SHELBY STEELE: [voice-over] Free-thinking aristocrats, writers,
scientists and artists gathered each day in the salons. Here Jefferson's
authorship of the Declaration of Independence - his commitment to human freedom
- won him immediate celebrity. He was shocked by the salon women, who talked
politics in public and took lovers just as publicly. But then he, too, began
to wear colored silks and frills and powder in his hair. He moved to large
quarters near the Champs-Elysees and furnished them lavishly in the French
ANNETTE GORDON-REED: He wrote of this as the happiest time of his life.
He loved the architecture, the food, the wines, the sophistication, and also
being somewhere, other people have surmised, where there was no slavery. I
mean, he had servants, but they were paid servants. And he could be away from
all of that.
JOSEPH ELLIS: Jefferson's the emblem of the American Revolution, which
in French terms means an end to slavery, too. And Jefferson went along with
LUCIA STANTON, Jefferson Memorial Foundation: There was all kinds of
discussion of slavery, ways to end it, at every dinner table conversation, I'm
SHELBY STEELE: The graceful meals which Jefferson hosted were prepared
by his American slave. If the talk at his dinner table was of the rights of
man, Jefferson was still an aristocrat from the South who lived within a sense
of his race and its privileges. A fellow Virginian on his way to Paris worried
about laws which allowed slaves to sue for freedom once on French soil. Not to
worry, Jefferson wrote back, "Your slave will never be aware of his legal
Jefferson was now caught between his ideals and his circumstances. When his
friend, the Marquis de Lafayette, announced a bold plan, "a colony of free
Negroes," Jefferson replied with his own plan, even bolder. He would free his
slaves and have them live and mix with whites. But there was a hitch.
LUCIA STANTON: He arrived in Paris with a massive debt.
ANNETTE GORDON-REED, Historian: Jefferson spent lots of money, bought
lots of things, lots of wine. But he does realize that he's in trouble when
he's in Paris.
SHELBY STEELE: Jefferson quietly forgot about his free colony. He was
writing home, ordering that slaves be sold or hired out. He knew he was
splitting up families. "My debts once cleared off," he wrote, "I shall try to
make their situation happier."
The need for money drove Jefferson once again to rely on his prerogatives as a
white. And this reliance would soon deepen. Midway through his stay in Paris,
his daughter, Martha, crossed the Atlantic to join him, accompanied by her
young house slave, Sally Hemings. [www.pbs.org: Who was Sally
LUCIA STANTON: Sally Hemings arrived in Paris in the summer of 1787.
She was about 13 or 14 years old. Despite her celebrity, we know very little
SHELBY STEELE: We have just this to remember Sally Hemings by, one
small bell. As a very young child, Sally had tended to Jefferson's wife on her
deathbed, and she received this gift as a gesture of thanks.
Although she lived for years after her name was notorious, there are no
drawings of her. Jefferson's enemies sang bawdy campaign songs about her, but
still no journalist ever sought her out. No historian gathered any but the
most basic facts about her.
JOSEPH ELLIS, Historian: What we do know comes from testimony of other
slaves, who described her as "mighty nar white." She was three-quarters white.
She had straight black hair.
LUCIA STANTON: Both witnesses agree that she was very attractive.
SHELBY STEELE: Sally Hemings and Jefferson's wife had been fathered by
the same man, John Wayles. This slave girl, then, was half-sister to
Jefferson's wife and a close blood relation to his daughter, whom she now
LUCIA STANTON: She was trained as a lady's maid. So when Martha
Jefferson attended these aristocratic balls, almost certainly Sally Hemings
accompanied her as her lady's maid. She would have had a rather broad
introduction to Parisian society at the beginning of the French Revolution.
SHELBY STEELE: After two years, Sally probably knew two things: that a
slave in France could sue for freedom, and that she, as a young and beautiful
female, could make a life for herself there that was beyond slavery. But for
reasons we will never finally know, she remained the property of Thomas
Jefferson. He was in his mid-40s, seven years a widower. She was 16.
JOSEPH ELLIS: We don't know for sure when Jefferson's relationship with
Sally Hemings started.
SHELBY STEELE: Sally's son, Madison, says in his memoir that his mother
was pregnant by Jefferson when they left Paris. The consensus among historians
is that their relations began in Paris or soon after, that she had six or seven
pregnancies with him over two decades. Four children grew into adulthood. But
of this first child there is no record.
We can only say that Jefferson was restless. His career and his debts needed
his attention in America. In 1789, the books and wine and furniture he'd
bought were crated up, and Jefferson sailed home, Sally and his daughters with
Jefferson was now a compromised man where slavery was concerned, and more and
more, a fatalism crept into his thinking on the subject. He had brought
America's racial divide into his own family. He would spawn two lines of
descendants, one legitimate, one not. And this bastardized part of his family
would be driven by a sense of incompleteness. Some would take up the
convenience of passing for white. Others would be driven back through time to
establish that connection with Jefferson himself, to put the lie to
BYRON WOODSON: African-Americans, a lot of them, are very sensitive
because their white grandparents and great-grandparents didn't acknowledge
their children. It was painful to people, and that pain seems to run down
generation after generation.
TRENA WOODSON: These slaves here, they could be Grants, because they
were born after Jemima and Fannie. So I'm going to get a copy of that. That's
BYRON WOODSON: OK.
I know for sure that I'm descended from Thomas Woodson. I know for sure that
Thomas Woodson is the older son of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson. I know
for sure that Sally Hemings returned from Paris pregnant. And that child was
Tom, who later took the name Thomas Woodson.
SHELBY STEELE: Historians do not share Byron Woodson's certainties.
Nothing firm places his ancestor, Thomas Woodson, at Monticello. He would have
been the disputed first child, of whom there is no clear record.
BYRON WOODSON: That's nice handwriting, anyway. That's the clearest
I've ever seen.
SHELBY STEELE: Byron Woodson's confidence comes from oral tradition.
Separate branches of his family preserved the same story: that Tom was Sally
Hemings's first-born, that as a young boy, he quarreled with Jefferson and that
Jefferson sent him away.
But when Byron agreed to a blood test, his DNA did not match the Jeffersons.
That only made him more determined.
BYRON WOODSON: I'm trying to retrace the steps of Thomas Woodson from
Jackson County, Ohio, where he died at the age of 89, and I want to trace it
back to Monticello.
MONTICELLO TOUR GUIDE: Martha Jefferson Randolph was really the
mistress of the house, and this was her-
TOURIST: The daughter.
MONTICELLO TOUR GUIDE: Right- her seating area here. And that bell,
the family tradition says that that was given to Sally Hemings, who was one of
the people that helped take care of Martha Jefferson on her deathbed. And that
was given as a token of her appreciation.
BYRON WOODSON: [reading inscription on gate] "This graveyard
plot is the private property of Thomas Jefferson's descendants." And that's a
seal of some sort. I guess that's the Jefferson family seal.
TRENA WOODSON: Do you want to go around to the other side? That's his
BYRON WOODSON: No, I'll just take it with the inscription.
SHELBY STEELE: Byron Woodson has poured himself into the task of
authenticating his family's story. He has cut back on his work to pursue his
research, driven thousands of miles, spent thousands of dollars.
BYRON WOODSON: [to tourists] And one of her sons, named Madison
Hemings, gave a whole history of his life and Sally's life and his
grandmother's life, who was Betty Hemings. And he said that all the children
of Sally Hemings were Thomas Jefferson's children. So I just wanted to let you
TOURIST: Verified by DNA?
BYRON WOODSON: Well, I don't know why they needed a DNA test when we've
got a tremendous amount of history. We really do.
TOURIST: Exactly. Are you related to-
BYRON WOODSON: Yeah, I'm a descendant of Thomas Jefferson's and Sally
TOURIST: It's nice to meet you.
BYRON WOODSON: My name's Byron Woodson.
SHELBY STEELE: While we were making this film, Byron Woodson learned
that his cousin, the Reverend Thomas Woodson, had gotten his DNA test back,
BYRON WOODSON: I'm not sure where this is going to end. I'm still very
interested in telling people our story because it's a story that needs to be
heard by all Americans.
SHELBY STEELE: Illegitimacy haunts the black identity. Our blackness
made our humanity unacknowledgeable, and so the quest for acknowledgement
became built into us, a part of what it means to be black in America.
But think of what it has always meant to be white in America. Jefferson
represents a classic white problem: how to live with an open evil and yet
maintain a sense of one's own decency. For Americans, the answer has usually
been a mask of innocence, some arrangement of appearances that hides the evil.
But having chosen relations with Sally Hemings, Jefferson would have known that
his innocence was a mask, even as he arranged it.
Jefferson returned to Monticello in 1794, overjoyed to be back. Four years as
secretary of state had delayed his return home after Paris. But he was through
with politics now, he said, and would devote himself to his farm. He would
restore prosperity to Monticello and take care of the slaves who labored for
him, those he called his "outdoor family."
LUCIA STANTON, Historian: The most important thing to Jefferson was the
smooth running of his plantation. I mean, he doesn't want to be a tyrant. He
wants to live by the principles that he expressed and espoused. But he
continued to own slaves, and he had to do something to make that- not
comfortable - I don't think it was ever comfortable - but endurable.
SHELBY STEELE: Monticello was Jefferson's vision of a graceful and
civilized world, and he didn't want the spectacle of slavery to taint it. In
the discreet placement of his slave cabins, the use of an underground slave
passageway, the ingenious design of his dumbwaiter, he worked to engineer his
slaves out of view.
He was never known to whip slaves personally; he ordered them whipped -
reluctantly, and when he was absent. When he sold slaves away, it was from his
remote farms, so he wouldn't witness their distress. Though he had come back
to Monticello saying he only wanted to farm, he soon stopped walking out to
his fields. [www.pbs.org: Read memoirs of Jefferson's slaves]
JOSEPH ELLIS, Historian: The field hands, who had tended to be the
darker African-Americans, were far away and were out of view, seldom seen even
by Jefferson and certainly not by visitors. The people that were the up-front
slaves, the slaves that were seen when visitors came and were in interactions
with the Jefferson family on a day-by-day basis were almost all Hemingses.
They were all light-skinned slaves. They didn't look like full-blooded
Africans because, in some sense, they weren't.
SHELBY STEELE: The Hemings lived in close, almost incestuous, proximity
to whites whom they were related to by blood. Sally Hemings's grandmother, her
mother, and Sally herself were all the mistresses of white men.
They were a line of humanity bred out of and for the convenience of white men,
bound not so much to labor as to the intimate needs of whites. Mulattos like
the Hemingses were a kind of companion race.
LUCIA STANTON: The Hemings family had virtually a monopoly on the
domestic positions at Monticello, in the house.
JOSEPH ELLIS: And Sally Hemings or the Hemings family is present for a
lot of the important moments in Jefferson's life- when his wife dies, for
example. And so they've- they've built up a residue of genuine emotional
SHELBY STEELE: Jefferson's children with Sally were seven-eighths
white, but still slaves. And they were a risk for him because they came just
as his ambition drew him back into politics.
By this time, he had warned friends not to expect him to speak out against
slavery. "I don't believe in tilting at windmills," he said, "especially those
likely to unseat me." He won the presidency two years after his son, William
Beverly Hemings, was born, and when he took office, Sally Hemings was pregnant
Jefferson's own handwriting lists Sally with his other slaves. Though her
rations were better than those of his field hands, it appears she lived in a
one-room cabin with a mud floor.
ANNETTE GORDON-REED: She was responsible for keeping his room.
SHELBY STEELE: [on-camera] His bedroom?
ANNETTE GORDON-REED: Keeping his bedroom. People write about this now
as Jefferson would be sort of furtively running around hiding, and, "Gee, what
will the neighbors think," you know, like he's some, you know, suburban dad or
something. And that's not what this- what this was.
I think he would- he would have the force of custom - not, you know, taking
Sally down to the chapel, saying, "We're going to get married," not making some
open announcement about it, but living his life the way other people lived
their lives with discretion, you know, just going through naturally.
SHELBY STEELE: The scandal broke after his first year as president. A
gutter journalist, whom Jefferson knew, turned on him, splashed the news about
his "African Venus." Other newspapers and political rivals gleefully joined
in. Poems and songs were rushed into print, this one to the tune of "Yankee
But Jefferson never answered the accusations in public or in private. On his
mountaintop, life continued unchanged. Another son, James Madison Hemings, was
born in 1805, as Jefferson swept into office for his second term.
[on-camera] Did Jefferson ever, in any way at all, acknowledge his
relationship with Sally?
ANNETTE GORDON-REED: All of her children are named for people in his
family or people who were close to him. Names meant a lot in the 18th century.
People would have recognized William Beverly, Thomas Eston, James Madison and
Harriet. They would know that this was a part of his family.
JOSEPH ELLIS: Think of Jefferson sitting at dinner at Monticello,
surrounded by his family and extended family, being served by Madison Hemings.
There is this blurry sense that Madison Hemings is related to Jefferson, but
there's no acknowledgment of it. They have learned, in effect, how to see him
and not see him at the same time.
SHELBY STEELE: [voice-over] Young Madison used to help his
mother around the house. It was common for slave children to clean and serve.
And the table was crowded with white family. Jefferson's daughter, Martha,
moved to Monticello with her husband and children, who were about the age of
Jefferson's slave children. Late in life, Madison gave a detailed account of
life here as an unacknowledged son. [www.pbs.org: Read Madison's
ANNETTE GORDON-REED: It's fairly clear that he was around Jefferson
quite a bit. When I went back and looked at the actual microfilm of his
memoir, I noticed that he's saying "Father"- "Father did this." "Mother did
that." He clearly thinks he's in a family.
There's a letter from someone telling about a person looking up and seeing a
servant who looked like Jefferson, so much so that he was startled.
LUCIA STANTON: The waiter standing behind him, the spitting image of
Thomas Jefferson. It must have been very striking to people who came from
outside. But inside, somehow they must have- what did they?
ANNETTE GORDON-REED: Think of what this must have meant for his white
daughter, Martha, to have another set of children by a slave woman mixed in
with her and her children. The children are there. People in the community
talk about it. This would be something that would be part of everyday life.
SHELBY STEELE: Martha's children remember their famous grandfather as
attentive, playful, easy to approach. We don't know Jefferson's thoughts as he
ignored his slave children. We know only his circumstances. He cannot sell
these children because they might talk. He can't free them because that
special treatment might give him away to his enemies in the press. He can't
acknowledge them as his own without ending his career and disgracing his white
He is circled now by the terms of America's racial primitivism. And now this
man of the Enlightenment must know himself as primitive. This is the sort of
untenable self-knowledge that lives within people in racist societies.
Probably he never reflected on what he had become, or what he had missed.
ANNETTE GORDON-REED: Sure, I could imagine he would miss not being able
to have- you know, have a son, to have sons that he could train and groom to
be, you know, like him. But when you're faced with these kinds of situations,
particularly somebody like him, you do the best that you can do.
That's what families do. And anybody, if you put yourself down in the middle
of any bizarre family situation, you'll stand around and say, "How do they do
it? How do these people do this?" But every single one of those people would
have had years to fit themselves into whatever role you find them in.
*DIANA REDMAN: [to Cooper sisters] Okay, this is Thomas
Jefferson. Here's Eston. Here's Eston's son, Beverly. But then as you follow
this one through, this is how they got the Y chromosome.
SHELBY STEELE: In recent months, the Cooper sisters have confirmed that
they are descendants of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson.
*DIANA REDMAN: And then this is Emma. This is George. Here's Nora and
Cora, so that would be your grandmother.
SHELBY STEELE: But they are not only related to him by blood. The
practice of racial secrets also ties the Coopers to their forefather. In
piercing the family secrecy that hid their heritage from them, the Cooper
sisters, who were raised as whites, have brought themselves troubling
AMALIA COOPER: I can't see how it could possibly make us any different.
I mean, if they look at me differently, they just do.
SHELBY STEELE: Does mere knowledge of black ancestry make them black?
Or did the original secret do the work it was intended to do and change their
race permanently to white? The struggle over such questions is testing their
JESSICA PORTERFIELD, Cooper Daughter: I know you want to protect
UNA COOPER: I do. But I'm still hoping he might be clued in and change
a little. I really am.
JESSICA PORTERFIELD: So this might actually change Dad and give him
UNA COOPER: I still think it's possible, and I would be very
disillusioned if it didn't.
SHELBY STEELE: Race is not just a white opportunity. Even victims of
racism can seize it as a chance to make their lives more convenient. They,
too, can turn away from those they love and leave a trail of pain.
The story of Una Cooper, her ex-husband, John, and their family is so sensitive
that we are blurring the photos of a man who still doesn't want his story
known. For race to work its power, there must always be secrets. And today,
as if trapped in the legacy of their famous ancestor, the Cooper family is
divided between those who want to preserve secrecy and those trying to end
UNA COOPER: John and my brother, Bernard, met in Kentucky, and they
pretty much went through the war together. My brother liked him, approved of
him, and he thought this would be maybe a nice fellow for me. And he
introduced us, and we had one date before we came back to Columbus.
AMALIA COOPER: Where'd you go? On your date?
UNA COOPER: We went out dancing. He was a horrible dancer, just awful.
But he knew it. I liked him.
SHELBY STEELE: John lived on his father's farm in Circleville, Ohio.
Once a week, he would put on his city clothes and ride the bus to Columbus to
take Una out on the town.
UNA COOPER: My mother had an egg man from Circleville, and he came to
Columbus. And he knew that John was dating me. So he told my mother and my
brother that John came from black relatives. And they forbid me to see him.
SHELBY STEELE: Una had no idea that her fiance was black. Suddenly
she had questions. What would the children look like? How should they be
raised? She sought out a geneticist for advice, though by then her mind was
UNA COOPER: I sent John a telegram, "Meet bus so-and-so." And then my
sister put me on the bus for West Virginia.
AMALIA COOPER: Was she scared?
UNA COOPER: Of my mother! [laughs]
JESSICA PORTERFIELD: But you left everything behind, didn't you?
UNA COOPER: I left everything behind.
JESSICA PORTERFIELD: I mean your art supplies-
UNA COOPER: She threw everything out- my furniture, all my artwork, my-
JESSICA PORTERFIELD: Your savings bonds, I remember- everything.
UNA COOPER: Everything. Took it all. She was mad because I married
SHELBY STEELE: Una's husband remained in touch with his parents, but he
severed ties to his extended black family. Like Jefferson himself, he had to
curb the simple human impulse to acknowledge his own kin.
UNA COOPER: John never went to see them. I don't know that he related
to black people at all, because-
JESSICA PORTERFIELD: I don't remember any.
UNA COOPER: I don't remember any. No.
JESSICA PORTERFIELD: Friendships that my father-
UNA COOPER: Friendships or-
JESSICA PORTERFIELD: -that my father had with black people.
UNA COOPER: -contacts.
JESSICA PORTERFIELD: Contacts.
UNA COOPER: No.
JESSICA PORTERFIELD: Nothing.
UNA COOPER: He was intelligent, very stern, intellectual. And he could
have gone a lot higher, I think, but he was afraid to make himself conspicuous,
and I think because somebody might have recognized him and talked about him.
He was afraid to get close to people. And we struggled with that, getting
close. I don't think we would ever have been divorced if he had come out in
the open and learned to accept who he was and what he was. But he never could.
He doesn't today.
JESSICA PORTERFIELD: That's a pretty strong statement, isn't it.
UNA COOPER: Uh-huh. That's a very strong statement. He just threw
himself away, and everybody else.
AMALIA COOPER: I'm sorry, I feel very strongly about this.
SHELBY STEELE: The Cooper daughters talked to us because they wanted
their lives and their children's lives free of secrecy. They hoped their
decision might influence their father to do the same.
MARTHA LOGUE, Cooper Daughter: It's too bad he's not sitting right here
talking about it. It would be kind of neat, wouldn't it?
UNA COOPER: I think it would be great to ask him.
AMALIA COOPER: He's not going to. He's spent almost 60 years keeping
this a secret.
UNA COOPER: I know.
AMALIA COOPER: He doesn't want anyone to know. He doesn't, for
whatever reason, and he's not going to talk about it.
SHELBY STEELE: The silence which Jefferson imposed on his own home
lasted the rest of his life.
After the end of his presidency in 1809, Jefferson retired to Monticello for
good. But he still worked at his desk every day, was still consulted on the
great issues of state, including slavery.
LUCIA STANTON: If he had ever really decided that it was safe to speak
out, we know what he thought would happen, that he would lose all influence.
But in every generation, there's the possibility of somebody being way ahead of
the rest of society and having an effect.
JOSEPH ELLIS: His latter-day discussions of slavery are almost always
in response to somebody's questioning of him. And he keeps going back and
developing theoretical plans that would allow for emancipation, and then
demonstrating that they are either economically or racially impossible. And
therefore, "It's not my problem anymore."
What had already been a pretty clear pattern of denial in Jefferson's life now
is deepened and darkened.
SHELBY STEELE: At age 76, Jefferson sank into a deep gloom. He saw
that the country he'd helped to found was splitting apart. The argument was
over the spread of slavery, the same as when he was young. But he had
JOSEPH ELLIS: He is in debt. He is the modern equivalent of several
million dollars in debt. And one of the reasons that he can't free his slaves
is that he doesn't really own them anymore. His creditors own them. And he,
in effect, has made a promise to them that he will take care of them that he
SHELBY STEELE: Burdened by debt, Jefferson could not find his own
freedom from slavery. This champion of liberty now walked his grounds,
gesturing, arguing, shaping the states' rights argument for keeping slavery.
He said that the North's interference was tyranny and that the South had every
right to resist.
Then he threw himself at the issue one last time. He would solve the slavery
There were one and a half million slaves. It would take all the government
had, and more, to buy their freedom. Then they would have to be moved, so they
would not mix or breed with whites. Africa was far and expensive. Why not
Haiti? If he just shipped the young, if families were split up and the old
kept to die here, that would keep costs down. For days, Jefferson worked and
reworked the price of mass deportation.
LUCIA STANTON: It was, I think, more comfortable to be grappling with
the abstract than the real. But it was- it was a complete dream.
[www.pbs.org: Explore the Jefferson enigma]
SHELBY STEELE: As he grew old, it became clear that creditors would
soon claim his slave families and auction them off. That's when he let two of
his children with Sally slip away.
LUCIA STANTON: On this page, you find out about Sally's children,
Beverly and Harriet. And next to their names, which he has put brackets
around, meaning they're gone in some way, he wrote "Runaway." "Runaway 22"-
that means 1822 and Sally's Harriet, as he writes, "Run 22."
ANNETTE GORDON-REED: Slave women have bargained with masters since
SHELBY STEELE: [on-camera] So slavery would not mitigate that
human bargaining between this man and this woman?
ANNETTE GORDON-REED: Not about this.
SHELBY STEELE: [voice-over] According to the Hemings family,
Sally had extracted from Jefferson a promise to free all their children. With
Beverly and Harriet gone, he was halfway to meeting his promise.
Jefferson spent his last years with an eye to his reputation, listing his
accomplishments and shaping the way his story would be told. If there were
secrets that could tarnish him, it seemed now they were safely buried.
In 1826, he grew sick and his family gathered around him, though only his
trusted butler was allowed to sleep in his room.
JOSEPH ELLIS: Burwell is part of the extended Hemings family. Burwell
is there throughout the vigil at the bedside and responds to Jefferson's
request to adjust the pillows.
As he's dying, he's making noises, and they don't know what it is. And the
only person in the room who understands what he's asking for is his trusted
slave, Burwell, and Burwell steps forward and adjusts the pillows, and that's
the last sound he makes.
So the first conscious thought he had and the last conscious or semi-conscious
utterance he had was associated with a slave.
SHELBY STEELE: After Jefferson's death, his creditors staged one of the
greatest estate sales in Virginia history. The largest asset, by far, was
human beings. Curiosity-seekers packed the auction. Slaves fetched
extraordinary prices due to Jefferson's celebrity.
Bankruptcy sales were the dread of all slaves, even the Hemingses.
LUCIA STANTON: Joseph Fossett, for instance, was free but had to watch
his wife and seven of their children sold to a number of different bidders.
It's apparent that he actually was going to men in the Charlottesville
community, asking them to purchase his children and promising to pay them back
when he had earned enough money as a blacksmith to reunite his family.
Sally Hemings, on the other hand, knew that her own children would not be sold.
She achieved something that no other enslaved woman at Monticello achieved, and
that's the freedom of all of her children.
SHELBY STEELE: It was buried in an obscure paragraph in the will:
Madison and Eston Hemings would go free. After their mother's death, they
would travel across the Appalachians to the north-west frontier of Ohio. Then
the family divided again. Madison and his kin would make their home in a
mulatto community, while Eston and his children chose to pass as whites.
Many Hemings descendants live in Ohio today. Meet the Pettifords, the Medleys,
the Daltons, the Redmans- part of the family that Jefferson created with Sally
Hemings. These are the black Hemingses, even if their blackness is often hard
The vast majority of Hemingses have long ago passed into the white world.
Madison was the only child of Sally's who remained black, but even here, where
he settled and where many of his descendants still live, there has been much
attrition across the color line.
JACQUELINE PETTIFORD: Talk about a talker! He was a talker. He could
make you laugh. He was such a- he was a good man.
SHELBY STEELE: There is a quiet honor among these light-skinned black
families. They stayed while others left.
BRENT PETTIFORD: Mom and Dad never sat us down and said, "Hey, look,
you kids, you're black." Now, obviously, I've got white ancestors, too.
There's- I mean, I wouldn't look like this if I didn't.
BELINDA HILLIARD: If you ask me what color I am, I'm going to tell you
I'm black. I'm not going to tell you I'm mixed because I'm not mixed. As far
as I'm concerned, I'm not mixed.
A lot of people just have a hard time understanding that it's not purely the
color of your skin that makes you black.
SHELBY STEELE: For light-skinned blacks, the black identity is a
self-conscious enterprise. Vulnerable to white racism on one side and to the
resentments of darker-skinned blacks on the other, they live between two color
To defend against all this, the black Hemingses must choose their black
identity and then assert it and practice it with discipline. Perhaps because
of their precarious position, the black Hemingses have tended to cling closely
to each other.
This is the tight-knit clan that John Earl Cooper gave up when he took on the
identity of a white man. And this is the clan his daughter, Amalia, would try
to reenter some 60 years later.
AMALIA COOPER: Well, in any case I have to decide what I'm going to
take to that woman's house.
SHELBY STEELE: Amalia Cooper is from that much larger white Hemings
AMALIA COOPER: -pictures and a genealogy chart. Maybe the one sister
that has all the pictures will-
UNA COOPER: Trade you?
AMALIA COOPER: No, no trading. Only taking.
The way it all began was, I started asking my mom questions. And she had a few
pictures, and we were talking about my grandmother, my father's mother. And
she said, "Well, I remember that one of her sisters married a man named Redman,
and they lived on the West Side."
So I got out the phone book, and I thought, "What the hell." And the first
name that I called was Diana Redman. We started talking, and we figured out we
were related. And as we were talking, she said to me, "Well, I'm
African-American." And I said, "Oh, okay."
SHELBY STEELE: Now Amalia would have to bridge a divide of both family
and race. In digging up her history, she had the support of only her mother
and two of her sisters. When she pushed for a meeting with the black Hemingses
and later decided to cooperate with this film, the reaction of her father and
many siblings was hostile.
AMALIA COOPER: No one called me. Well, that's not true. One person
called me and- but they called my mom. Some of them called my mom, and they
were- they weren't nice about it. They were angry. And it's- I feel like it's
somewhat split our family apart, and I feel like an outsider now. And I'm
pissed off about that because there's nothing to split us apart.
SHELBY STEELE: Amalia's father and a number of her siblings decided not
to talk to us- or to her. For the white Hemingses, too, racial identity was
fragile, something to be guarded.
AMALIA COOPER: They're behaving as if it's a dirty little secret. I
think that they're afraid that people will stop seeing them as white and start
seeing them as black. I mean, I can't put it any- any plainer than that.
SHELBY STEELE: What makes a person white or black? Jefferson tried to
work it out. "A" equaled pure white; "B" equaled pure black. And by a strange
algebra he concluded that three generations of interracial mating turned a
family from black to white.
But his formula misses the human story. Jefferson's son, Madison, tells how
race didn't just cost him a father, but his siblings, as well. When Harriet,
Beverly and eventually Eston chose white identities, all ties to each other had
to be cut. To pass out of a race always requires one to pass out of a
DIANA REDMAN: I know that this branch - this is my branch - stayed in
the black community.
SHELBY STEELE: Diana Redman, unofficial historian of the black
Hemingses in Ohio.
DIANA REDMAN: I know that these two branches moved into the white
community. This branch moved into the white community. Since then, the
contact has disappeared.
SHELBY STEELE: For the black Hemingses, every act of passing is a
rejection of them, as a family and as a race.
DIANA REDMAN: One of my grandmother's brothers came to live with her.
He lived with my grandmother for probably six months before he died. And my
father and my grandmother made the funeral arrangements. His children, who had
not opened their homes to him, requested that my father's family not show up at
His children were in the white community, and they didn't want to face the
possibility of their lives being disrupted by acknowledging there is a black
side to this family.
ANN MEDLEY: Let them do what they want to do. A lot of them did it,
SHELBY STEELE: Ann Medley, a matriarch of this black Hemings clan.
ANN MEDLEY: This is me. Oh, you think about the. You talk about them,
like to see them, or you know, like to see if you knew them, or if they are
dead or if they're alive or- because a lot of times, we see obituaries in the
paper, like, if they're named a Young or- and we- well, one time we did,
Irvin's boys. We saw it, had his picture in the paper. So we knew that was
one of them.
I wouldn't want to go to their funeral. If they didn't think no more of me,
they probably wouldn't want you come to their funeral. They wouldn't come to
AMALIA COOPER: I was sort of nervous to go there. And all of a sudden,
I walked into this room of people that looked, you know, like us. It was
MARTHA LOGUE, Cooper Daughter: There was a lot of people wanting us to
see their families. I thought it was a great welcome. I mean, after all,
we're- we might be blood-related, but we're still strangers.
AMALIA COOPER: Diana's father was there, and she had told me that he
was close to my father when they were boys. And I had a lot of questions for
him. I wanted to talk to him.
I was really startled to see the resemblance between him and my father. His
hands were just like my dad's. It was amazing. And his jaw was just like my
ANN MEDLEY: Their father is my first cousin, so that would make me
their second cousin. One of the little girls looks just like my daughter.
They look just like, don't they, Jackie?
JACQUELINE PETTIFORD: Just alike.
SHELBY STEELE: But if these women are all one family, they are also now
AMALIA COOPER: I found out all kinds of things that day. The only
little jarring note was when one of my cousins was showing me her genealogical
charts, and she said, "Well, I don't know any white Coopers." And I said,
"Oh?" You know, and of course, I'm sitting here thinking, "Well, I do."
ROSEMARY GHOSTON: And we were sitting there, and we was talking about
Coopers. And I said, "Well, all the Coopers I know are black." And she's,
"Well, all the Coopers I know are white."
AMALIA COOPER: And she looked at me very surprised. She said, "Well,
Elmer Cooper was black," you know, my grandfather.
MARTHA LOGUE: And we're, like, "No, he's not." And they all chimed in.
I mean, people that you didn't know were listening to the conversation. "Oh,
yes, he is. He's black." I thought it was delivered partially ill-will- very,
ANN MEDLEY: And they still don't believe it. They think that their
dad- they think their dad's father was a white man, and he isn't. And we told
them that. But they still can't believe it, or they don't want to believe
AMALIA COOPER: My father doesn't look like a black man. I don't think
his father did, either. But to be perfectly honest with you, I don't think
some of my cousins look like they're black people, but they identify themselves
Are they black? They say they're black, but are they? Because they don't look
black. Some of them do. Some of them don't. Some of them have blond hair.
They're definitely of mixed race. But are they black any more than am I
But our society forces you to choose an identity. So you have to align
yourself with one culture or another. Although I did have to fill out a
government form, and I chuckled over the race aspect of it and checked "Other"
just because, you know, it was sort of fun. [laughs]
SHELBY STEELE: [on-camera] A little rebellion there.
AMALIA COOPER: Yeah. I mean, it was sort of silly. But nothing has
changed. I mean, what has changed? I don't know.
SHELBY STEELE: [voice-over] We can't know just now if these two
lines of the Hemingses can reconcile, but it is clear that racial identities
still stand in the way. And if the story of the modern-day Hemingses
illustrates the absurdity of racial identity, it also raises the question of
whether it is possible to live in America without one. Is it possible not to
choose? [www.pbs.org: Explore mixed-race America]
DIANA REDMAN: You can't readily play back and forth. You've got to
pick your camp. That's where you're going to be.
If I think about Amalia, Martha and Jessica, I think they have a very difficult
row to hoe because their experience will be- continues to be the experience of
people who were raised in the white world, raised white in that world.
SHELBY STEELE: [on-camera] So once a person moves out, there
can really never again be that 100 percent security about them?
DIANA REDMAN: Yeah. I don't think there can. I- at least-
SHELBY STEELE: That's just the price they pay.
DIANA REDMAN: For me, that's the reality. That- and that is the price
SHELBY STEELE: [voice-over] In uncovering her history, Amalia
Cooper has lost part of her white family and not yet gained a black one. She
has lost a secure whiteness without becoming black. This racelessness, this
living without the consolations of identity, has always been the special burden
of the Hemings family, their legacy from Thomas Jefferson.
The writer James Baldwin once said, "Love between unequals is always perverse."
No doubt it's true. But it is also true that the relationship between Thomas
Jefferson and Sally Hemings appears to have lasted over 30 years. Pregnancies
came regularly until Sally was past child-bearing age. And from their first
child until Jefferson's death, there is no record or even suggestion of another
Perverse or not, there had to have been real affection and loyalty between
these two people. To acknowledge this is not to sanction slavery, but to point
out how irrepressibly human we are. If this story shows the pain caused by
racial identities, it also shows that they are finally not enough to keep us
from being human.
When black and white descendants first met at Monticello, there was much good
will, but also discord. This weekend they will meet again, and still there is
no agreement about who belongs in this family. Some whites continue to argue
that Jefferson's paternity has not been proven. But neither the Hemingses nor
the Woodsons are backing down.
YOUNG MAN WITH CAMERA: Two more steps! Try to get everybody in the
picture, please! [singing] We are family! I got all my sisters and
SHELBY STEELE: If Jefferson's descendants are unconvincing just yet as
family, they are nevertheless struggling with their relatedness to each other.
But their racial identities attach them to so much history, give them
territories to defend, grudges to settle, guilts to redeem.
And there is no way to resolve all the history between them. To be a family,
Jefferson's descendants will simply have to want family more than race. Out of
this wanting they can make new history.
ANNOUNCER: The Jefferson-Hemings story continues on the Web. Watch
special video reports, including, did George Washington also father a child
with a slave?
For those who may have noticed the FRONTLINE Web promos and Web markers but
have never visited the FRONTLINE Web site, tonight a guided tour of FRONTLINE
On the PBS home page, there is often a special highlight box, like this one for
tonight's program that takes you directly to the Jefferson's Blood home
page, your gateway to the vast array of material FRONTLINE has assembled on the
world of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings.
DAVID FANNING, Senior Executive Producer: In the course of making a
documentary, you gather an enormous amount of material, and all that piles of
research, the additional interviews, the materials that were gathered, the
documents, all of that stuff is valuable. What the Web gives us is a chance to
organize it in such a way that it allows the viewers to sift through and to
examine those artifacts and to come to their own conclusions.
One of the first things we found out when we were developing a Web site on
Jefferson was that there were many, many Web sites on Jefferson. There was a
lot of material on the Web. And so one of the tasks of the site is to give
people a guide to those sites.
ANNOUNCER: FRONTLINE has organized an extensive set of links to the
best of the Web and designed an on-screen guide to the most intriguing sections
of each site. The official Monticello site, for example, contains its report
on whether Jefferson did father Hemings's children, pictures and bios of those
children and their descendants, even a virtual tour of Monticello's dining
room, where Jefferson's black and white families met each day in their dance of
FRONTLINE has also designed a path through the Web by topic: sections on the
DNA evidence, on the mind of Thomas Jefferson, on mixed-race America. The
section on slavery includes a link to the memoirs of a Monticello slave, Isaac
Jefferson, as he dictated them in the 1840s.
Halfway down page 3 lies the most detailed, first-hand description of Sally
Hemings ever recorded.
FRONTLINE VIEWER: [reading "Sally mighty near white." "Sally
was very handsome, long straight hair down her back"-
ANNOUNCER: There is another link to the slave narratives gathered by
the WPA in the 1930s and another to the treasure trove of historical documents
assembled by the PBS project Africans in America, like this list of the
colonial casualties in 1775, which includes a surprising notation.
FRONTLINE VIEWER: [reading] "Prince Easterbrooks, a Negro
DAVID FANNING: If you've liked the documentary, and if you've seen one
of the Web markers, when you go to the site, you're likely to find a series of
paths that say to you, "Take this path, and you will find out a whole lot more
about that part of the story."
ANNOUNCER: Another way to maneuver through the big questions about
Jefferson and Hemings is to take the FRONTLINE quiz.
FRONTLINE VIEWER: [reading] "DNA tests prove 100 percent that
Thomas Jefferson was the father of at least one of Sally Hemings's children."
True. "False." Oh!
ANNOUNCER: Each answer leads to extensive background material, from an
interview with a DNA researcher, Dr. Eugene Foster and the gene map of the
Jefferson family, to the analysis of dissenters.
FRONTLINE VIEWER: [reading] "Question 7. How long did it take
for historians to accept that Jefferson had a relationship with Sally
ANNOUNCER: That answer is linked to a FRONTLINE multi-media report
analyzing why for nearly 200 years historians dismissed Jefferson's great
secret, from John Callendar's scandal sheet stories during Jefferson's
presidency through Madison Hemings's revelations in 1873 to a video-streamed
report on Fawn Brody, the first historian to conclude Jefferson had fathered
Hemings's children. The attacks on Brody's 1974 book were intense.
ANNETTE GORDON-REED, Historian: -as someone who was writing this
popular biography just for money. And it shows a lot about American character
that black-white relations are always seen, "Well, it's just sex. It's
prurient. It's dirty." And that was the way Fawn Brody was viewed. It was
not like as though she was trying to bring a story about a serious side of
Jefferson's life to the fore. She was just writing pornography.
DAVID FANNING: Not only is the Jefferson-Hemings story a dramatic story
in its own right, as a documentary, but within it lies so many other stories
that- that go to our national consciousness- issues of race and class and the
making of history. And so both the documentary and the Web site become a very
multi-faceted, complicated way of looking at those issues.
ANNOUNCER: The FRONTLINE site contains several exclusive video reports
that explore intriguing questions. What was the real nature of the
relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings?
BRENDA STEVENSON: I don't endorse the romantic aspect of the
ANNOUNCER: Two writers explain how they conjured up their image of
Sally Hemings from the scraps of history.
BARBARA CHASE-RIBOUD: -situation, and an extremely conflicted woman who
survived, who survived-
ANNOUNCER: And in the wake of the Jefferson revelations, FRONTLINE
investigated the story of the first American president, a slave named Venus and
the claims of another African-American family.
LINDA BRYANT: When I was a little girl, my mother told me and my
siblings that we were related to George Washington, that he was our fifth
great-grandfather. We were told that Venus was asked to comfort George
Washington. She was probably a young teenage girl, 15 or 16 years of age. She
was a house servant of his brother's. And when she became pregnant, he no
longer associated with her.
Put yourself in my position, sitting and learning about your grandfather, all
the great, wondrous things that he's done for this country, but no one in the
country knew that he had a son and that that son was black.
DENNIS POGUE, Mount Vernon Historian: The research that we've done
pretty clearly indicates that it was virtually impossible for George Washington
to have ever known Venus, West Ford's mother, or to have ever met West Ford.
JUDITH BURTON: I just want the truth. It's not that I'm looking for
any kind of glory out of it. I want my heritage. I don't want it to be
denied. I want the truth.
ANNOUNCER: Every FRONTLINE Web site contains useful tools to help users
interact with FRONTLINE, search engines that reveal related material at other
FRONTLINE and PBS sites, an invitation to join the discussion by email and to
join the FRONTLINE community by signing up for our weekly bulletin. The
teacher's guide includes readings and activities for high school students,
including one inspired by Sally Hemings's bell that encourages students to
write about ancestral artifacts from their own families.
FRONTLINE VIEWER: [reading] "The red notebook was my
great-grandfather's. He was the first generation to emigrate to America, and
he wanted to fit in."
ANNOUNCER: And for those who may have missed part of the Jefferson's
Blood documentary, several chapters of the film can be reviewed on
LUCIA STANTON, Jefferson Memorial Foundation: Sally Hemings arrived in
Paris in the summer of 1787. She was about 13 or 14 years old. Despite her
celebrity, we know very little about her.
SHELBY STEELE: We have just this to remember Sally Hemings by, one
DAVID FANNING: What the conjunction of television and the Web means is,
especially in non-fiction and journalism, is an extraordinary opportunity for
people to take control of the information themselves. That's very empowering.
That's very powerful.
ANNOUNCER: Bookmark FRONTLINE on line at pbs.org or America On Line
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ANNOUNCER: Next time on FRONTLINE: Boris Yeltsin was America's hope for
a new Russia.
EXPERT: We invested all our trust, faith and money in a corrupt
ANNOUNCER: Now a new strongman has been elected.
EXPERT: Putin simply answered this yearning for some kind of order.
ANNOUNCER: But what will Russia give up for this new order? The
Return of the Czar next time, a FRONTLINE collaboration with National
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