Thursday, October 26, 2017

Race, Class, & Gender: The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family by Annette Gordon-Reed

The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family by Annette Gordon-Reed, is an exhaustive look at race in America, both during the time period of Thomas Jefferson’s interactions with Sally Hemings at Monticello, and American as a whole.

Yet the complexities of this story extend beyond race as well.  Gordon-Reed must and does explore gender inequality, social inequality among whites and blacks, as well as race and ethnicity along with the idiosyncrasies in the lives of particular white and black people; this makes for a layered complex story.

Rather than shy away from this, Gordon-Reed dives right in.  She is hobbled by the fact that half of her subject matter, the enslaved people of Monticello, particularly the Hemingses, have little if any written records of their lives. What we know of them is from their own recollections years later, memories of descendants, or any records kept by Jefferson and his employees.

Therefore, Gordon-Reed must make many speculative jumps.  She has no other choice.  Yet these are very well informed jumps, and I believe most readers will be satisfied with the voice she gives to people who were very purposefully blotted from the Jefferson family history.

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