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Jefferson's Blood
Airdate: 5/2/00
Jefferson's Blood
Produced and Directed by
Thomas Lennon
Written by
Shelby Steele and
Thomas Lennon
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 children?

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 family.

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 ways.

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 vulnerable.

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 whipping coming.

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 true.

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 conceivable.

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 matched.

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 years.

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 just 14.

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 Jefferson himself.

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 different.

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 children.

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 obligation.

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 him.

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 style.

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 that.

LUCIA STANTON, Jefferson Memorial Foundation: There was all kinds of discussion of slavery, ways to end it, at every dinner table conversation, I'm sure.

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 rights."

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. [ Who was Sally Hemings?]

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 about her.

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 served.

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 him.

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 bastardization.

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 page 129.


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 actual-

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 know that.

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 Hemings.

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, also negative.

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. [ 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 affinity.

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 with Harriet.

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 Doodle Dandy."

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. [ Read Madison's account]

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 family.

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 questions.

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 family ties.

JESSICA PORTERFIELD, Cooper Daughter: I know you want to protect Dad.

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 some peace.

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 it.

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 set.

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- everything.

JESSICA PORTERFIELD: Your savings bonds, I remember- everything.

UNA COOPER: Everything. Took it all. She was mad because I married John.

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.




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.


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 changed.

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 cannot keep.

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 problem mathematically.

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. [ 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 Biblical times.

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 to see.

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 lines.

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 clan.

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 family.

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 the funeral.

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, so-

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 mine.

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 really incredible.

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 dad's.

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?


SHELBY STEELE: But if these women are all one family, they are also now two races.

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." [laughs]

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, very mean-spirited.

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 it

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 as African-American.

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 white?

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? [ 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 you pay.

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 woman.

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 me!

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 line.

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 denial.

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 man."

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 Hemings?"

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 relationship.

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 line.

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 small bell.

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 or America On Line keyword PBS.

A FRONTLINE coproduction with

Lennon Documentary Group

Copyright 2000



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 system.

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 Public Radio.

To order tonight's program on videocassette, call PBS Home Video at 1-800-PLAY-PBS.

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