Monday, February 11, 2013

It is Black History month so we should mention a notable black person that most of us don't know well and give him or her some well deserved recognition.  We should also continue with the thoughts that most politicians are hypocrites.  Today we can talk about both when we discuss our very famous founding father and real father to many children Thomas Jefferson.

He was our third President and the author of the Declaration of Independence and most of us thought that he was the biggest supporter for the rights of most people. Jefferson said he hated slavery and thought it was a terrible crime.  He held onto his 600 slaves and had an entire family with one of them. Today they have slavery tours at his home as a tourist attraction.  He owned a plantation called Monticello and proved that he was an imperfect man. 

He freed only 7 slaves in his lifetime meanwhile he was the one that wrote in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal.  He had six legitimate children with his wife but had also fathered six other children with his slave Sally Hemings who was of mixed race yet a slave.  The stories continued for years until DNA evidence showed Jefferson the father of his slave's children and that evidence was revealed in 1998.  Is he really worthy of having his image up there on Mount Rushmore etched in stone with other great American Presidents?

He also wrote  in the Constitution  Article 1 Section 2 that a slave could be considered as 3/5 of a freed person.  It was also Repealed by the 14th Amendment Article 2 in 1865.  Most people are quite capable of denial and hypocrisy but we shouldn't expect that from our politicians however, nothing has changed and our present day politico's lie all the time too.  Yet Jefferson's virtues were enormous.  Pulitzer Prize author Jon Meacham just wrote a book about Thomas Jefferson called The Art of Power.

In this book you find a story of a man's life that was made by slavery.  The economic, political and cultural circumstances to which he was born trapped him into being a slave owner.  He as a baby was given in the care of Bourell Colbert a slave, his butler, who tended to his needs until Jefferson's death.  They had a close relationship from birth to death.  John Hemings was a slave who made furniture at his home who was later freed and allowed to take his carpentry tools with him.

At the Smithsonian there is a tour called Slavery at Jefferson's Monticello: Paradox of Liberty where they have original documents listing the slaves he owned with stories of how 12 year old children were routinely beaten to produce more nail production that was a very profitable  product to produce at the plantation. In the 18th Century you couldn't run a plantation without the use of violence. Yet he criticised Britain's slave trade to the Continental Congress.  His image is a contradiction. 

Jefferson thought that slaves when freed would leave the country and go back to their original homes in other countries.  He did not foresee a bi-racial integrated society.  That is ironic since he created a bi-racial society at his Plantation at Monticello.  Sally Hemings was the sister of John Hemings the furniture maker.  She was also thought to have been his wife's Martha half sister.  The entire Hemings family lived at Monticello.But it was in Paris in the 1780's by then Jefferson was a widower and was the United States minister to France that he supposedly began a nearly 40 year sexual relationship with Sally Hemings who was there with him.  By law she was free in France. 

Before agreeing to return to Virginia back to slavery, she set conditions to him.  According to her descendants she demanded that their children should be freed at age 21.  She was a strong willed courageous woman to make such a demand in those days.  A newspaper learned of his bi-racial family and for 200 years there were always rumors circling about the families.  Many of his slave children looked totally black while some looked totally white. 

There is also a book called Jefferson's Children out now The Story of One American Family.  It goes through all the children of Jefferson and acts as a bridge for people to be able now to discuss the topic of slavery and relationships and family. Thomas Jefferson is buried at Monticello.  inscribed on his monument are the achievements he wanted to be remembered for including The Declaration of Independence.  But he will be remembered as well now for his legacy that is not written there. His love for his black family as well as his ownership of slaves to run his business.

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