Daily Video

August 6, 2018

How Monticello’s exhibit on Sally Hemings deepens our understanding of U.S. history





Read the summary below, first. Then watch the video and answer the discussion questions. Teaching tip: Hit “CC” for closed captions on the Youtube video or follow along using the transcript here.




Visitors have long come to Monticello (mon-teh-CHELL-oh, like the instrument) to see and admire Thomas Jefferson’s mansion, but a new silhouette and exhibition bring a largely hidden life into the open. No portrait exists of Sally Hemings, an enslaved woman who had a decades-long relationship with Jefferson and bore him six children, but the public can now learn more about her story.


Answer the discussion questions as a class, in your journal or with a partner.


1. Essential question: Why is it important to include the story of Sally Hemings as part of the history of Monticello?


2. Share your response to the following questions posed by Leslie Greene Bowman, president of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation:


“I think Monticello is a microcosm of the American story, right? How willing have the American people been to acknowledge slavery as their history and not someone else’s history?”


3. “In 2000, Monticello published a report on DNA and other evidence of Jefferson’s paternity of Hemings’ six children, four of whom survived to adulthood. That and work by leading scholars helped bring public acceptance. Some doubters remain, but experts and Monticello itself now consider this a settled matter.”


Why do you think this doubt exists on the part of some members of the public? What role does scientific evidence play in this matter?


4. More than half a million people visit Monticello every year. What more would you like to learn about its history? What questions would you ask after watching the video?


5. Media literacy question: Monticello officially uses the term “enslaved person” instead of slave. Other individuals including writers and scholars as well as organizations like historical institutions, schools and universities have also made the decision to use this term. Why has the term “enslaved person” come to be used more and more in place of the term “slave”? How could you find out, if you are not sure?


Extension activity:


Read the story, “‘American history is a crazy-quilt experience’: Monticello descendants talk ancestry and race,” as a follow-up to the story above.



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