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Fawn M. Brodie, a biographer, wrote "Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate

 History," published in 1974, which mentioned an affair between Hemings

 and Jefferson. One of Mrs. Westerinen's cousins,


A Founding Father and His Family Ties

By Madison J. Gray

Thomas Jefferson & His Negro Family


March 3, 2001

As a child, Julia Jefferson did not know that her family was believed to be directly descended from Thomas Jefferson. But her father knew. And he kept it a secret. "They met in the 40's and decided to kill the story," she recalled of her father, William McGill Jefferson, and his brothers, who agreed not to tell their children. Why wasn't having a famous forefather something to brag about?

Well, the Jeffersons were white. And they believed that their ancestor was one of the children of Sally Hemings, a slave who lived on Thomas Jefferson's estate, Monticello. And for a white family living in suburban Evanston, Ill., in the 1940's, black ancestry was not something to advertise. "Those were terrible times for black people, and I would like to think they were trying to protect us," said Julia Jefferson, now Julia Westerinen. But in 1998, new DNA evidence that traces Y chromosomes passed from father to son strongly indicated that Mrs. Westerinen's brother John is a descendant of Jefferson and Hemings.

After the revelation, John, who likes his privacy, largely remained out of the public eye. But Mrs. Westerinen was swept into the media river, met some of her distant black cousins on "Oprah" and went off on a speaking tour with one of them, all because she embraced her new black heritage. "It's such an American thing to have a drop of this and a drop of that," she said on NBC's "Nightly News" after the results of the DNA evidence were released. "I'm Scotch, Irish, English, French, Welsh and black."

In a recent interview at her Staten Island home, Mrs. Westerinen smiled, remembering the to-do that followed that broadcast. "When I went home that evening, all types of press left messages," she said. "I did interviews back-to-back. Someone even called in to one of the shows and welcomed me to the black race."

Although the story of a long relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings was not new — it was widely rumored in Jefferson's time — the news that scientific evidence showed that Jefferson could have fathered at least one of her children riveted the public.

African-American scholarship in the 1970's and 1980's had already renewed interest in the relationship, and it was through a book that Mrs. Westerinen learned her family's secret long before the DNA test results. Fawn M. Brodie, a biographer, wrote Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History, published in 1974, which mentioned an affair between Hemings and Jefferson. One of Mrs. Westerinen's cousins, Jean Jefferson, read the book and remembered that one of their ancestors was named Eston Hemings, also known as E. H. Jefferson. She called Ms. Brodie.

"They made the connection between us and E. H. Jefferson," Mrs. Westerinen said.

Eston Hemings was said to be the youngest son of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, and accounts of the time said that he had fair skin, so it was easy for him to assimilate into white society. When he moved to Madison, Wis., in 1852 with his wife, Julia, he changed his name to E. H. Jefferson.

His third child, Beverly, grew up to be a respected businessman in Wisconsin, building omnibuses. Beverly's son Carl Smith Jefferson became chief counsel of the Milwaukee Railroad Company, and at some point moved to Evanston. Carl's second son, William McGill Jefferson, raised his children, including Julia, in that suburban Chicago town. The family later moved to Pennsylvania, and then to Maryland, where Julia married Emil Westerinen and had four children. In 1968, her family moved to Staten Island. Mrs. Westerinen became vice president of a company that makes furniture.

After the Brodie book was published, researchers spoke to Mrs. Westerinen's family for articles in scholarly publications. But some historians disputed the claim that Jefferson had fathered black children.

Scientific advances prompted researchers still interested in the subject to contact Mrs. Westerinen in 1998. The DNA test they wanted to try could track only an unbroken line of males, so her brother John volunteered his blood. The test showed that the Y chromosome of E. H. Jefferson's great-great-grandson John matched those of descendants of Thomas Jefferson's paternal grandfather (the only unbroken line of white Jefferson males). Soon, The Seattle Times reported the story.

"All types of media were ringing our phone like crazy," said Mrs. Westerinen, 66. The sheer number of interview requests almost overwhelmed her. But her daughter-in- law Susan encouraged her to go on Oprah Winfrey's show. Ms. Winfrey had long been interested in the Jefferson-Hemings connection and invited Mrs. Westerinen and her family to Chicago for a taping.

But the family did not know that Ms. Winfrey had also invited African-American descendants of Sally Hemings to the show. Afterward, Mrs. Westerinen said, "Oprah treated us all to lunch," where she saw that "physically, there were a lot of resemblances. A lot of my black cousins look just like my uncle John." One of the distant cousins Mrs. Westerinen met at the lunch was Shay Banks-Young.

Ms. Banks-Young, 56, an African- American who lives in Columbus, Ohio, and works as a first aid instructor for the Red Cross, said she had long been aware of her family's connection to Thomas Jefferson. "I've known about my history pretty much as long as I can remember," she said. "It wasn't something people made a big deal over."

She said that she did not dwell much upon the issue until she met Alex Haley, the author of "Roots." "He was excited to meet me when I told him my family name is Hemings," she said. "He encouraged me to put together my family chart and document the information."

After meeting Mrs. Westerinen, Ms. Banks-Young invited her to appear with her on a television show to talk about the Jefferson-Hemings family. Mrs. Westerinen then returned the favor. She had been approached about a lecture tour, and asked Ms. Banks-Young to join her.

In the lectures, Mrs. Westerinen and Ms. Banks-Young talk about their Hemings-Jefferson family history, slavery and race in America. Their next lecture is on Monday at the University of Delaware in Newark. Mrs. Westerinen said she believed that speaking about America's racial divide would help close it. "Until you identify a problem, you can't solve it," she said. "It was once not polite to talk to black friends about race, but now I can talk."

Both women say their immediate families have supported them. Mrs. Westerinen's daughter Dorothy, 43, said: "One of the benefits of this is that people are talking. Discussion of it has opened some minds." But other Jeffersons have not accepted the DNA evidence. In 1999, the Monticello Association, an organization of Jefferson descendants, met at Monticello. Mrs. Westerinen and her daughter went to the meeting looking to join the association. But a member made a motion to remove them from the meeting. Others members voted to allow them to remain, but they have not been allowed to join.

A younger black Hemings cousin, Shannon Lanier, also saw mixed reactions from whites at the meeting. "There were Jeffersons who threw their arms around me, and one woman who looked at my outstretched hand and actually shuddered," he wrote in "Jefferson's Children: The Story of One American Family" (Random House, 2000), a book he wrote with the photographer Jane Feldman. But the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, which is responsible for maintaining the Monticello estate, has been pleased that Ms. Banks-Young and Mrs. Westerinen have provided publicity by speaking about their family ties.


"Over the years we've seen that a number of people have gone from considering this to be just a family story to considering this to be a national story and an American saga in many respects," said Dianne Swann- Wright, director of special programs at Monticello and a historian for an oral history project dedicated to chronicling the lives of African- Americans who lived at Monticello.

Dorothy Westerinen said she hoped that white members of the Monticello Association would eventually admit that Thomas Jefferson fathered black children.

"I think those who were ready to accept something like this accepted it, and those who were not weren't going to accept it no matter what," she said. "I feel like we've started the ball rolling."

Ms. Westerinen said she had gained a lot from the DNA news. "Our family is like a sample family that was deeply divided and then came together," she said. "So think of what an example we can set for America."

DNA evidence has shown that Julia Jefferson Westerinen, left, is most likely a direct descendant of Thomas Jefferson and one of his slaves, Sally Hemings. Mrs. Westerinen, shown with her daughter, Dorothy, is standing before a portrait of her grandfather, Carl Smith Jefferson.

Above top left: A family photograph showing Beverly Jefferson in his old age holding Julia's uncle (also named Beverly) while Julia's grandfather looks on. The elder Beverly Jefferson was the son of Eston Hemings Jefferson, who was Sally Hemings's son. Above top right: Thomas Jefferson


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Report of the Research Committee
on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings
Thomas Jefferson Foundation


January 2000


Based on the examination of currently available primary and secondary documentary evidence, the oral histories of descendants of Monticello's African-American community, recent scientific studies, and the guidance of individual members of Monticello's Advisory Committee for the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies and Advisory Committee on African-American Interpretation, the Research Committee has reached the following conclusions:

Dr. Foster's DNA study was conducted in a manner that meets the standards of the scientific community, and its scientific results are valid.

The DNA study, combined with multiple strands of currently available documentary and statistical evidence, indicates a high probability that Thomas Jefferson fathered Eston Hemings, and that he most likely was the father of all six of Sally Hemings's children appearing in Jefferson's records. Those children are Harriet, who died in infancy; Beverly; an unnamed daughter who died in infancy; Harriet; Madison; and Eston.

Many aspects of this likely relationship between Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson are, and may remain, unclear, such as the nature of the relationship, the existence and longevity of Sally Hemings's first child, and the identity of Thomas C. Woodson.

The implications of the relationship between Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson should be explored and used to enrich the understanding and interpretation of Jefferson and the entire Monticello community.—Monticello

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Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: A Brief Account 

Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826) was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence (1776) and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom (1777), the third President of the United States (1801–1809) and founder of the University of Virginia (1819). He was an influential Founding Father and an exponent of Jeffersonian democracy.

Sarah "Sally" Hemings (Shadwell, Albemarle County, Virginia, circa 1773 – Charlottesville, Virginia, 1835) was a mixed-race slave owned by President Thomas Jefferson through inheritance from his wife. She was the half-sister of Jefferson's wife, Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson by their father John Wayles. She was notable because most historians now believe that the widower Jefferson had six children with her, and maintained an extended relationship for 38 years until his death. When Jefferson's relationship and children were reported in 1802, there was sensational coverage for a time, but Jefferson remained silent on the issue. Four Hemings-Jefferson children survived to adulthood. He let two "escape" in 1822 at the age of 21 and freed the younger two in his will in 1826.

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 Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History (1974)

By Fawn M. Brodie

Thomas Jefferson and the Character Issue—Douglas L. Wilson—November 1992—Although the charge that Jefferson had fathered several children by one of his slaves was first made public in his lifetime, by a vindictive journalist and office-seeker, James Callender, it was believed mainly by those who disparaged Jefferson for political reasons and was not credited by Jefferson scholars or the public at large. But that began to change in 1974, when Fawn M. Brodie published a widely read book on Jefferson in which she attempted to establish the truth of Callender's charge as a prime biographical fact. Brodie's thesis about Jefferson and Hemings is an embellished and controversial reading of the evidence, but what is more significant in the present context is that her story was well geared to the dispositions of her audience.

She insisted that her object was not to pillory Jefferson or to make him out as a moral monster but merely to depict him as a man. If, as a widower, he fell in love with a beautiful slave girl and took her as a mistress when she was fourteen years old, it was "not scandalous debauchery with an innocent slave victim," she assured us, "but rather a serious passion that brought Jefferson and the slave woman much private happiness over a period lasting thirty-eight years." Brodie's benign version of the story has proved persuasive, and where previous versions had depicted such behavior as scandalous, hypocritical, or shameful, Jefferson and Hemings are represented as a pair of happy lovers, bravely defying the conventions of a sexually puritanical and racist society.

Compelling as this picture has proved to the American public, most Jefferson scholars and historians have remained unpersuaded. It is true that Jefferson was extremely protective of his personal life and went to considerable lengths to keep it private, but it does not follow, as Brodie would have us believe, that he must therefore have had something to hide. In accounting for Jefferson's behavior in the context of his own time, rather than ours, it is difficult for knowledgeable authorities to reconcile a liaison with Hemings with much else that is known about him. Jefferson implicitly denied the charge, and such evidence as exists about the paternity of Hemings's children points not to Jefferson but to his nephews.

It is, of course, impossible to prove a negative, but the real problem with Brodie's interpretation is that it doesn't fit Jefferson. If he did take advantage of Hemings and father her children over a period of twenty years, he was acting completely out of character and violating his own standards of honor and decency. For a man who took questions of morality and honor very seriously, such a hypocritical liaison would have been a constant source of shame and guilt. For his close-knit family, who worshipped him and lived too near to him to have been ignorant of such an arrangement, it would have been a moral tragedy of no small dimensions.—theatlantic

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Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy

By Annette Gordon-Reed

Attorney Gordon-Reed (law, New York Law Sch.) presents a lawyer's analysis of the evidence for and against the proposition that Jefferson was the father of several children born to his household slave Sally Hemings. Gordon-Reed is not concerned with Jefferson and Hemings as much as she is with how Jefferson's defenders have dealt with the evidence about the case. Her book takes aim at such noteworthy biographers as Dumas Malone, who has been quick to accept evidence against a liaison and quick to reject evidence for one.—Library Journal

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Remember Thomas Jefferson's Betrayal—Bill Moyers—02 July 12—Jefferson himself was an aristocrat whose inheritance of 5,000 acres, and the slaves to work it, mocked his eloquent notion of equality. He acknowledged that slavery degraded master and slave alike, but would not give his own slaves their freedom. Their labor kept him financially afloat. Hundreds of slaves, forced like beasts of burden to toil from sunrise to sunset under threat of the lash, enabled him to thrive as a privileged gentleman, to pursue his intellectual interests, and to rise in politics.

Even the children born to him by the slave Sally Hemings remained slaves, as did their mother. Only an obscure provision in his will released his children after his death. All the others—scores of slaves—were sold to pay off his debts.

Yes, Thomas Jefferson possessed "a happy talent for composition," but he employed it for cross purposes. Whatever he was thinking when he wrote "all men are created equal," he also believed black people were inferior to white people. Inferior, he wrote, "to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind." To read his argument today is to enter the pathology of white superiority that attended the birth of our nation.

So forcefully did he state the case, and so great was his standing among the slave-holding class, that after his death the black abolitionist David Walker would claim Jefferson's argument had "injured us more, and has been as great a barrier to our emancipation as any thing that has ever been advanced against us," for it had ". . . sunk deep into the hearts of millions of the whites, and never will be removed this side of eternity."

So, the ideal of equality Jefferson proclaimed, he also betrayed. He got it right when he wrote about "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" as the core of our human aspirations. But he lived it wrong, denying to others the rights he claimed for himself. And that's how Jefferson came to embody the oldest and longest war of all—the war between the self and the truth, between what we know and how we live.

So enjoy the fireworks and flags, the barbecues and bargain sales. But hold this thought as well: that behind this Fourth of July holiday are human beings who were as flawed and conflicted as they were inspired. If they were to look upon us today, they most likely would think as they did then, how much remains to be done.—readersupportednews

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Jefferson and his estate "disposed of" 600 slaves in his lifetime.   He was a slave trader.  This explains his opposition to the African Slave Trade.   Like many Virginians he wanted to maintain prices in the slave market.—wjm

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



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Karma’s Footsteps

By Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie

Somebody has to tell the truth sometime, whatever that truth may be. In this, her début full collection, Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie offers up a body of work that bears its scars proudly, firm in the knowledge that each is evidence of a wound survived. These are songs of life in all its violent difficulty and beauty; songs of fury, songs of love. 'Karma's Footsteps' brims with things that must be said and turns the volume up, loud, giving silence its last rites. "Ekere Tallie's new work 'Karma's Footsteps' is as fierce with fight songs as it is with love songs. Searing with truths from the modern day world she is unafraid of the twelve foot waves that such honesties always manifest. A poet who "refuses to tiptoe" she enters and exits the page sometimes with short concise imagery, sometimes in the arms of delicate memoir. Her words pull the forgotten among us back into the lightning of our eyes.—Nikky Finney /  Ekere Tallie Table

Her Voice   / Mother Nature: Thoughts on Nourishing Your Body, Mind, and Spirit During Pregnancy and Beyond  

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The Making of African America: The Four Great Migrations

By Ira Berlin

Berlin (Many Thousands Gone) offers a fresh reading of American history through the prism of the great migrations that made and remade African and African American life. The first was the forcible deportation of Africans to North America in the 17th and 18th centuries, followed by their forced transfer into the American interior during the 19th century. Then came the migration of the mid-20th century as African-Americans fled the South for the urban North, and the arrival of continental Africans and people of African descent from the Caribbean during the latter part of the 20th century. Berlin sees migration and the reshaping of communities to their new environments as central to the African-American experience. Movement is a matter of numbers, and Berlin provides them in detail kept fully readable by his attention to the cultural products of the shifts. In particular, he follows the church as it moves, the music as it takes on new themes, and kinship as it broadens. Berlin's careful scholarship is evidenced in his rich notes; the ordinary reader will be pleased by the fluidity and clarity of his prose.—Publishers Weekly

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Jefferson's Pillow

The Founding Fathers and the Dilemma of Black Patriotism

By Roger W. Wilkins

 In Jefferson's Pillow, Wilkins returns to America's beginnings and the founding fathers who preached and fought for freedom, even though they owned other human beings and legally denied them their humanity. He asserts that the mythic accounts of the American Revolution have ignored slavery and oversimplified history until the heroes, be they the founders or the slaves in their service, are denied any human complexity. Wilkins offers a thoughtful analysis of this fundamental paradox through his exploration of the lives of George Washington, George Mason, James Madison, and of course Thomas Jefferson. He discusses how class, education, and personality allowed for the institution of slavery, unravels how we as Americans tell different sides of that story, and explores the confounding ability of that narrative to limit who we are and who we can become. An important intellectual history of America's founding, Jefferson's Pillow will change the way we view our nation and ourselves.

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The Women Jefferson Loved

By Virginia Scharff

According to historian Scharff, Thomas Jefferson’s “most closely guarded secrets, the most fiercely maintained silences, all had to do with the women he loved.” It stands to reason that in order to fully understand a man as tremendously gifted and as deeply flawed as Thomas Jefferson, one must also understand and appreciate the women who collectively formed the foundation of his life and shaped the nature of his legacy. Although Jefferson’s mother, daughters, granddaughters, wife, and enslaved mistress were all fascinating women who played distinct roles in his life and legend, they were also creatures of their time and place, living, enduring, and playing by the rules of a patriarchal, male-dominated society. By studying these women Scharff not only opens a window to the heart and soul of one of our nation’s founders but also resurrects their own contributions to our nation’s history.—Booklist

The chapter on Sally Hemings does not add much new information, but it certainly lays out the facts we know in a comprehensive and well organized fashion. Much like Professor Gordon-Reed, the author carefully explains the strange dual-family existence that prevailed at Monticello, and how servants integrated with the Jefferson family as they all lived together. As regards the two daughters, they too emerge from the historical darkness and we learn a great deal about them and their important role in TJ's life and activities. As I read each chapter, I learned all manner of things of which I had not been aware, and I have read a lot of material on TJ. So women are central to the story, but there is also an abundance of additional facts and perspectives that very much enhance the book. —Ronald H. Clark

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The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family

By Annette Gordon-Reed


This is a scholar's book: serious, thick, complex. It's also fascinating, wise and of the utmost importance. Gordon-Reed, a professor of both history and law who in her previous book helped solve some of the mysteries of the intimate relationship between Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings, now brings to life the entire Hemings family and its tangled blood links with slave-holding Virginia whites over an entire century. Gordon-Reed never slips into cynicism about the author of the Declaration of Independence. Instead, she shows how his life was deeply affected by his slave kinspeople: his lover (who was the half-sister of his deceased wife) and their children. Everyone comes vividly to life, as do the places, like Paris and Philadelphia, in which Jefferson, his daughters and some of his black family lived.

So, too, do the complexities and varieties of slaves' lives and the nature of the choices they had to make—when they had the luxury of making a choice. Gordon-Reed's genius for reading nearly silent records makes this an extraordinary work.—Publishers Weekly

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The Persistence of the Color Line

Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency

By Randall Kennedy

Among the best things about The Persistence of the Color Line is watching Mr. Kennedy hash through the positions about Mr. Obama staked out by black commentators on the left and right, from Stanley Crouch and Cornel West to Juan Williams and Tavis Smiley. He can be pointed. Noting the way Mr. Smiley consistently “voiced skepticism regarding whether blacks should back Obama” . . .

The finest chapter in The Persistence of the Color Line is so resonant, and so personal, it could nearly be the basis for a book of its own. That chapter is titled “Reverend Wright and My Father: Reflections on Blacks and Patriotism.”  Recalling some of the criticisms of America’s past made by Mr. Obama’s former pastor, Mr. Kennedy writes with feeling about his own father, who put each of his three of his children through Princeton but who “never forgave American society for its racist mistreatment of him and those whom he most loved.” 

His father distrusted the police, who had frequently called him “boy,” and rejected patriotism. Mr. Kennedy’s father “relished Muhammad Ali’s quip that the Vietcong had never called him ‘nigger.’ ” The author places his father, and Mr. Wright, in sympathetic historical light.

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The Long Affair

Thomas Jefferson and the French Revolution, 1785-1800

By Conor Cruise O'Brien

In The Great Melody, O'Brien wrote a masterful study of one of the great early opponents of the French Revolution, Edmund Burke. Now he applies his counterrevolutionary principles to an examination of Thomas Jefferson, reevaluating Jefferson's thought and correcting some scholarly misinterpretations. But while the book will appeal to anyone interested in Jefferson and his pivotal role in American politics, the themes are less well-developed than in The Great Melody, and the book is ultimately disappointing. Through plentiful direct quotations from his subject and his own effective analysis, O'Brien demonstrates that Jefferson's support of the French Revolution began to wane after such support no longer furthered his domestic political aims and when he came to see it as a threat to slavery. Because of his support of slavery, says O'Brien, Jefferson is no longer appropriate as an icon for an increasingly multiracial American society.

He points out that racists on the right have begun to claim Jefferson as a prophet, but O'Brien seems to repeat their mistake of evaluating him only through his views on race. Though Jefferson may indeed have been a racist and did not intend the Declaration of Independence ever to apply to blacks, the brilliance of the document was that it could be expanded over the years to include groups previously excluded. Though one would not want admiration of Jefferson's principles to lead to support for white supremacy, neither would one want rejection of white supremacy to lead to disbelief in the revolutionary idea that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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