Published on Jay Bookman’s blog on May 2, 2017 by MaryElizabethSings: (Link: http://jaybookman.blog.myajc.com/2017/05/02/opinion-the-6th-district-race-is-all-about-trump/
“Hello again. I have given some thought about our earlier intense discussion regarding Thomas Jefferson as a slave holder.
I would like to pose this question for those who may be interested. Did any of you grow up in the Jim Crow South, as I did? If you did, did you notice that 95% of the white people accepted that unjust system of social interaction? Were all of these white people evil during the 1950s when they had their maids sit in the back seat of their cars as they picked them up and carried them back home, after they had done the ironing and other household chores for the white stay at home mothers? Were the white people of that era evil for expecting no black people to eat with them? Were the white people evil for keeping black people out of their restaurants, movie theaters (unless they stayed in the balconies), bathrooms, schools, swimming pools, etc.?
That was a social system just as slavery was another social system and many white people knew deep down, like Thomas Jefferson did of slavery, that it was wrong to segregate the races in such an inhumane way, yet most white people, again like Thomas Jefferson, accepted that system of Jim Crow because no one individual could have turned it around, even if they had tried, as Jefferson had tried in his youth to end slavery unsuccessfully.
Yes, Jefferson did speculate that a slave woman who gave birth to a new slave was more profitable than a hard working man whose days were numbered in productivity. That does not surprise me of Jefferson, and I knew of that remark that Jefferson had made even before Jay Bookman stated it to me yesterday morning. However, unlike Jay Bookman, I can absorb the fact that Jefferson could think as a business farmer while at the same time understand that each of his slaves was a human being worthy of respect.
Once, Jefferson reprimanded his white grandson for not respecting his older black slave when the black slave tipped his hat to the Jeffersons, grandfather and grandson. Jefferson wanted his grandson to show respect to every person and that is why he told his young grandson that the black slave was a better person than he (the grandson) had shown himself to be. That was a man who knew how to respect every human being. Complex yes, but human beings are complex. They are not caricatures of either good or evil. Thomas Jefferson was the driving force in keeping America democratic, educated, and civil and we need to honor that fact in this brilliant public servant.
We must be able to see with complexity and without so much judgment of who is good and who is evil among us.
Sally Hemings carried with her to her grave Thomas Jefferson’s pen and ink, his glasses, and his shoe buckle. She gave those items to her children by Jefferson to love and to remember from where they came. That was not the act of a woman who had been raped for 37 years. That was the act of a woman who loved a man. As far as historians can tell, Thomas Jefferson fathered no children but those by his legal wife of ten years, Martha Wayles Jefferson, and those of her half-sister and slave, Sally Hemings, and he freed all by the age of their early twenties as he had committed to do to Sally Hemings, 37 years earlier if she would stay with him. Of her, he told his only surviving legal child, Martha Jefferson Randolph, “Take care of Sally,” on his deathbed. Martha Jefferson Randolph released her half-aunt, Sally Hemings to live permanently in freedom with her two sons by Jefferson, Madison Hemings and Thomas Eston Hemings, who had earlier been freed legally by Jefferson in his will, within a month of Jefferson’s death.
Addition to the above: “. . .if she (Sally Hemings) would stay with him (Thomas Jefferson) in America as his slave and mistress instead of fleeing from him to continue to be a free woman in France, but on her own in France with only her 20 year old brother, another slave of Jefferson whom Jefferson had taken to France with him to learn to become a French chef. Jefferson knew that the French Revolution was only months away. How would two young people who had been slaves in America have fared alone in France during the French Revolution? Do not be so naive as to think that Jefferson was not aware of the two unfortunate choices of his two slaves who were the half brother and half sister of his dead wife.”
Sources: “The Hemings of Monticello,” by Dr. Annette Gordon-Reed
and “Thomas Jefferson,” by Dr. Saul Padover.
Another poster to Mary Elizabeth:
“To be perfectly honest, I’m not that interested in TJ’s private life.
I understand that he was a product of his time, and I am eternally grateful for the contributions he made to the founding of our nation.
Please forgive me if I consider this whole argument a tempest in a teapot.”
Mary Elizabeth’s comments in response to that poster’s remarks:
“I am sorry that you feel that way, but I do appreciate your honesty. My interest in seeing Thomas Jefferson in complexity has to do more than with him. It has to do with trying to create the kind of America we inhabit today which Jefferson envisioned not only for America but for the world.
Also, as a teacher, I hope to be an inspiration to others not to see either ideas or people as stereotypical caricatures but as flesh and blood with all their dimensions in our consciousness. Until we are collectively able to stretch our minds and souls to that degree, I do not believe that we will be capable of creating a better world for our progeny.”