Sunday, February 12, 2012

Slavery at Jefferson's Monticello: Paradox of Liberty

Yesterday afternoon, I went to the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC, to see a temporary exhibition on slave life at Thomas Jefferson's plantation Monticello. For this exhibition, the museum collaborated with curators of the future National Museum of African American History and Culture (the museum will open on the National Mall in 2015). The most interesting part of the exhibition was the section where the visitor could see the lives of the most important slave families on the plantation, including the Hemings. It was interesting to see objects from their daily lives, like ceramic tableware, drinkware, cooking pots and pans, and more personal items like toothbrushes, combs, and jewels. The most striking items definitely were the headstone of Priscilla Hemming, two sets of shackles used during the transatlantic slave trade, and a bill of sale for a slave girl. A section of the exhibition focused on an oral history project that the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello began in the 1990s to trace descendants of Jefferson's slaves. Be sure to go see it if you happen to be in DC before October 14, 2012!

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