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Nancy Koehn on BPR, 6/19/2018

A New Exhibit At Monticello Confronts Thomas Jefferson's Relationship With Sally Hemings Head-On

Jefferson Monticello New Exhibits
In this photo provided by The Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Bernard Hairston, of Charlottesville, Va., reads a plaque about Sally Hemings during the opening of the South Wing at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's estate in Charlottesville, Va., on Saturday, June 16, 2018. Sally Hemings was an enslaved woman who was the mother of six of Jefferson's children.
Steve Ruark/The Thomas Jefferson Foundation via AP
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Nancy Koehn on BPR, 6/19/2018

A new exhibit at Monticello confronts the history of slavery at Thomas Jefferson's historical home head-on — including Jefferson's relationship with Sally Hemings, the enslaved woman who is widely believed to have been the mother of six of his children.

The exhibit, which opened this weekend, includes a space believed to have been the room where she lived, which was located in a "cellar-like" area of the house, according to NPR.

Nancy Koehn, historian at the Harvard Business School, said the exhibit presents a fuller portrait of Jefferson and the lives of the people who supported him.

"The whole idea is: Let's open the curtains here and look at the man and the people who supported this person, and the children — both his children with his wife, [Martha] and his children with Sally Hemings," Koehn said on Boston Public Radio.

"Let's come to terms, in a sense, with the full story, or as full a story as we can offer at Monticello," Koehn continued.

Koehn also address the controversy over how the exhibit characterized the relationship between Jefferson and Hemings. After long debate, historians decided to use the term "rape" with a question mark, to address issues of power and consent in the relationship.

"In law, she was property," Koehn said. "To say this was conjugal, consensual, sexual relations really is difficult when she belonged to him."

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