COURTSIDE HISTORY: HOW THE FOUNDING FATHERS’ RACISM ERASED A PRESIDENT’S DAUGHTER! — ALSO MY: “FRIDAY ESSAY — FROM MONTICELLO TO TRUMP, MILLER, SESSIONS, AND THE GOP WHITE NATIONALISTS”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/made-by-history/wp/2018/01/25/how-did-we-lose-a-presidents-daughter/

Professor 

“Many people know that Thomas Jefferson had a long-standing relationship with his slave, Sally Hemings. But fewer know that they had four children, three boys and a girl, who survived to adulthood. Born into slavery, Sally’s daughter Harriet boarded a stagecoach to freedom at age 21, bound for Washington, D.C. Her father had given her $50 for her travel expenses. She would never see her mother or younger brothers again.

With her departure from Monticello in 1822, Harriet disappeared from the historical record, not to be heard of again for more than 50 years, when her brother told her story. Seven-eighths white, Harriet had “thought it to her interest to go to Washington as a white woman,” he said. She married a “white man in good standing” in that city and “raised a family of children.” In the half-century during which she passed as white, her brother was “not aware that her identity as Harriet Hemings of Monticello has ever been discovered.”So how did we lose a president’s daughter? Given America’s obsession with the Founding Fathers, with the children of the Revolution and their descendants, why did Jefferson’s child disappear? As it turns out, America has an even greater obsession with race, so that not even Harriet Hemings’s lineage as a president’s daughter was sufficient to convey the benefits of freedom. Instead, her birth into slavery marked her as black and drove her decision to erase her family history.

Harriet Hemings passed as white to protect her fragile freedom. Jefferson had not issued her formal manumission papers, so until the abolition of slavery in 1865, by law she remained a slave, which meant her children also inherited that condition. But in a society that increasingly associated blackness with enslavement, Hemings used her white skin not only to ensure her children’s freedom, but to claim for them all the rights and privileges of whiteness: education, the vote, a home mortgage, any seat they chose on a streetcar. To reveal herself as the daughter of Jefferson and his slave would  have destroyed her plans for a better life for her descendants.

Since Harriet’s time, science has proved there is no difference in blood as a marker of “race.” As a biological category, racial difference has been exposed as a sham. Even skin color is not a reliable indicator of one’s origins. As one study calculated, almost a third of white Americans possess up to 20 percent African genetic inheritance, yet look white, while 5.5 percent of black Americans have no detectable African genetic ancestry. Race has a political and social meaning, but not a biological one.

This is why the story of Harriet Hemings is so important. In her birth into slavery and its long history of oppression, she was black; but anyone who saw her assumed she was white. Between when she was freed in 1822 and the ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865, she was neither free nor enslaved — yet she lived as a free person.

She does not comfortably fit any of the terms that have had such inordinate power to demarcate life in America. Her disappearance from the historical record is precisely the point. When we can so easily lose the daughter of a president and his slave, it forces us to acknowledge that our racial categories are utterly fallacious and built on a science that has been thoroughly discredited.

Yet as political, economic and social categories, racial difference and its consequences remain profoundly real. White privilege has been much on display in our own day, as armed white men proclaiming white supremacy marched unmolested in the streets, while unarmed black men are shot down by police who are rarely held to account. Politicians run successful campaigns on platforms of racial hatred.

This is why, by one estimate, between 35,000 and 50,000 black Americans continue to cross the color line each year.

As I poured through hundreds of family genealogies, searching for more details about the life of Harriet Hemings, I saw that all families have invented stories: details that have been embellished over time, or perhaps altered by accidental errors. Descendants of immigrants Anglicized their names; information in census records is inconsistent from one decade to another; genealogies are altered because of confusion with recurring favorite names over multiple generations.

Those families who pass as white most definitely have such invented stories. It is what they had to do to authenticate a white lineage, to be recognized as fully human and fully American, with all the rights and privileges thereto — rights and privileges not even a lineage as honored as Jefferson’s can match.

Nations, as well as families, invent stories about themselves. In both cases, we will run into characters we would rather not admit as being one of us, and stories we would rather not tell about ourselves. That the president’s daughter had to choose between her family and living a life with the dignity only whiteness can confer is one of those stories. But without them, we will never truly know where we’ve come from; and without them, we will never be able to chart out a path for a better family and national life.

FRIDAY ESSAY — FROM MONTICELLO TO TRUMP, MILLER, SESSIONS, AND THE GOP WHITE NATIONALISTS
BY PAUL WICKHAM SCHMIDT
Cathy and I recently visited Monticello. Unlike my first visit, decades ago, I found that the issue of slavery subsumed everything else. And, TJ as a person and a human being certainly got infinitely smaller during our time there.
 
Guys who got worked up about paying too much tax giving a “free pass” to their own exploitation of hundreds of thousands of enslaved individuals? (Remind you of any of today’s politicos of any contemporary party?)
And, no, Jefferson and the other slave-owning founding fathers don’t get a “free pass” as “products of their times.” That’s the type of “DAR sanitized non-history” we were fed in elementary and high school.
They were, after all, contemporaries of William Wilberforce who was speaking, writing, and fighting the (ultimately successful) battle to end slavery in England. We can also tell from the writings of Jefferson, Washington, Madison, and Monroe that they realized full well that enslavement of African-Americans was wrong. But, they didn’t want to endanger their livelihood (apparently none of them felt confident enough in his abilities to earn an “honest living”) or their “social standing” in a racist society. 
Truth is that guys who had the courage to risk their lives on a “long shot” that they could win their political freedom from England, lacked the moral courage to stop doing what they knew was wrong. Yes, they founded our great country! And, we should all be grateful for that. But, we shouldn’t forget that they also were deeply flawed individuals, as we all are. It’s critical for our own well-being that we recognize, not celebrate, those flaws.
Those flaws also caused untold human suffering. Largely untold, because enslaved African-Americans were denied basic education, outside social contact, and certainly possessed no “First Amendment” rights. There were few first-hand written accounts of the horrors of slavery. Of course, there were no national news syndicates or “muckraking journalists” to expose the truth of what really was going on “down on the plantations.”
One of the things our guide at Monticello described was that “passing for White” wasn’t necessarily the “great boon” that “us White guys” might think it was. It meant leaving your family, friends, and ancestry behind and creating a new “fake” ancestry to appease White society.
For example, if Jefferson’s “White” daughter had a “not so White” husband and children at Monticello, they could never have accompanied her into the “White World.” Indeed, even if such family members were eventually “freed,” acknowledging them as kin would bring down the whole carefully constructed “Whitehouse of cards.” 
For that reason, some light-skinned slaves who could have escaped and passed into White society chose instead to remain enslaved with their “dark-skinned” families and relatives. 
The “Father of American Independence” only freed three slaves during his lifetime (none of them apparently family members). And he only freed five slaves upon his death.
The rest were sold, some “down the river,” breaking up families, to pay the substantial indebtedness that Jefferson’s irresponsible lifestyle had run up during his lifetime. Even in death, his enslaved workers paid a high price for his disingenuous life.
So, the next time our President or one of his White Nationalist followers plays the “race card,” (and that includes  of course Latinos and other ethnic and religious minorities, not just African-Americans or African immigrants) think carefully about the ugly reality of race in American history, not the “sugar-coated version.”
While you’re at it, you should wonder how in the 18th year of the 21st Century we have elected a man and a party who know and acknowledge so little about our tarnished past and who strive so eagerly to send us backwards in that direction.
PWS
01-26-18
 

WASHPOST OUTLOOK — BRITINI DANIELLE: “Sally Hemings wasn’t Thomas Jefferson’s mistress. She was his property!” — When Will We Come To Grips With The Reality That The America We Know And Love Literally Was Built On The Backs Of Enslaved Blacks?

https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/sally-hemings-wasnt-thomas-jeffersons-mistress-she-was-his-property/2017/07/06/db5844d4-625d-11e7-8adc-fea80e32bf47_story.html

Danielle writes:

“Archaeologists at Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia plantation, Monticello, are unearthing the room where Sally Hemings is believed to have lived, allowing for a new way to tell the story of the enslaved people who served our third president. The excavation has once again reminded us that 241 years after the United States was founded, many Americans still don’t know how to reconcile one of our nation’s original sins with the story of its Founding Fathers.

Just before the Fourth of July, NBC News ran a feature on the room, setting off a spate of coverage about the dig. Many of these stories described Hemings, the mother of six children with Jefferson, as the former president’s “mistress.” The Inquisitr, the Daily Mail, AOL and Cox Media Group all used the word (though Cox later updated its wording). So did an NBC News tweet that drew scathing criticism, though its story accurately called her “the enslaved woman who, historians believe, gave birth to six of Jefferson’s children.” The Washington Post also used “mistress” in an article about Hemings’s room in February.

Language like that elides the true nature of their relationship, which is believed to have begun when Hemings, then 14 years old, accompanied Jefferson’s daughter to live with Jefferson, then 44, in Paris. She wasn’t Jefferson’s mistress; she was his property. And he raped her.

Such revisionist history about slavery is, unfortunately, still quite common. In 2015, Texas rolled out what many saw as a “whitewashed ” version of its social studies curriculum that referred to enslaved Africans as “immigrants” and “workers” and minimized slavery’s impact on the Civil War. One concerned parent spoke out, forcing a textbook publisher to revise some of the teaching materials.

In a speech at the Democratic National Convention last year, Michelle Obama reminded Americans that no less a symbol of our government than the White House was built by those in bondage. In response, then-Fox News host Bill O’Reilly offered a softer, gentler take: Those enslaved workers were “well fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government,” he said. That they had no choice in their food, lodging or whether they even wanted to do the backbreaking work of building Washington by hand was nowhere to be found in O’Reilly’s version.

. . . .

Romanticizing Hemings and Jefferson’s so-called relationship minimizes the deadly imbalance of power that black people suffered under before the Civil War. It also obscures our collective history as a nation that moved from being built on the blood, bones and backs of enslaved African Americans and indigenous people, to being the imperfect, hopeful and yet still unequal country we are today.”

*****************************************************

Four of our first five U.S. Presidents had no visible means of support other than the free labor provided by enslaved African Americans. In other words, they were incapable of, or chose not to, make an “honest” living, essentially freeloading off of “welfare” provided by their enslaved workers.

And it wasn’t just the south. Much of the prosperity of the New England merchant class rested directly or indirectly on the profitable slave trade or the agricultural products produced by slave labor in the south. As pointed out in the article, enslaved black workers literally built our nation’s capitol.

Nor were religious institutions absolved of the taint. Georgetown University (where I teach at the Law School), a Jesuit institution, recently had to come to grips with the fact that it sustained itself by literally selling black families “down the river” where many of them were permanently separated.

Even after the Civil War, which, contrary to apologist historians, was driven almost entirely by slavery and keeping blacks from sharing in democracy, the white power structure in both the north and the south cooperated in undermining the 14th Amendment for more than a century. Today, politicians like Donald Trump, Jeff Sessions, and Kris Kobach, assisted by their “groupies” like Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, seek to turn back the clock on our nation’s hard-earned progress toward racial equality.

Why as a nation do we have so much difficulty acknowledging the immoral conduct of many of our founders and the overwhelming debt we owe to those black Americans whose skills, perseverance, and hard work literally built America?

PWS

07-07-17