This weekend's New York Times Magazine features a short interview with historian Annette Gordon Reed, who just won the National Book Award for The Hemingses of Monticello, her illuminating look at Thomas Jefferson's relationship with his slave Sally Hemings and her family. It's the sort of brief Q&A that spends as much time on the author's family life as it does on the book, though a few interesting moments did manage to occur. First, Gordon-Reed totally rejected interviewer Deborah Solomon's talk of "our increasingly mixed-race society." "We've always been a mixed-race society," she responds, after arguing that interracial sex was actually more common in the 18th century than it is today. There's also this exchange on President-elect Barack Obama, which sounds to me like Solomon has annoyed Gordon-Reed just a bit:
[Obama] is relatively fair-skinned, not unlike Sally Hemings. Do you think that comes with any sort of social message?
He's not that light-skinned. If he were walking down the street and I saw him, I wouldn't assume his mother was white. I don't think it's the light skin that matters so much as that he has a white parent. For some white people, that might be comforting.
What about Michelle Obama, who has been more saddled with racial stereotypes, perhaps because her skin is darker?
Black people get stereotyped no matter what shade their skin is.
Earlier this year, reason.tv sat down with Alan Pell Crawford, author of Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson, which details the late life of America's third president.
In a 20-minute interview, Crawford, a one-time press secretary to Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and widely published journalist, discusses Jefferson's massive contributions to American political discourse; his role in creating the University of Virginia; his relationship to Sally Hemings, slavery, and manumission; and much, much more.
Click below to watch.