Annette Gordon-Reed on Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings, and Barack Obama


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.

Whole thing here. My review of The Hemingses of Monticello is here.

Earlier this year, 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. 

NEXT: We've Got Phoney-Baloney Jobs Up the Ying-Yang, Say America's Mayors! All We Need Is the Money To Pay For Them!

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  1. Michelle Obama *is* a racial stereotype.

    Barack is Bill Clinton with a tan. Which is actually something of a relief.

  2. 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.

    (sigh) Obama, to his credit, did not run a race-based campaign.
    The racists will now attempt to correct that. How sad.

  3. Sounds like she only sees racism as something in white people’s eyes. Among black people, skin darkness is important. Even among whites, skin darkness would appear to be a factor considering the relative popularity of lighter skinned, yet still identifiably “black”, celebrities over darker skinned ones.

  4. The outline of this author that I’ve managed to glean from these posts suggest to me she’s a dubious historian with a strong case of racial bias. Any particular reason she’s being pimped so much by reason? Does she have some connection to the Libertarian movement?

  5. The problem here is that the “interviewer” is Deborah Solomon who cuts, rewords, reorders, and just makes shit up. The result is we have no idea what Annette Gordon-Reed said nor what Solomon actually asked her.

    The tagline “INTERVIEW CONDUCTED, CONDENSED AND EDITED BY DEBORAH SOLOMON” is supposed to clue the reader in but as the NYT Ombuds said a few years ago, the whole feature is extremely deceptive.

  6. And I should add that yes all writers do this to some extent, but Solomon clearly intentionally does it to cast her subjects in a more or less favorable light depending on her whim. See her Wikipedia entry re: her Tim Russert and Ira Glass “interviews.”

    And the NYT wonders why it’s going broke.

  7. she responds, after arguing that interracial sex was actually more common in the 18th century than it is today.

    I’m skeptical of this. I wanna see some numbers.

  8. What do you mean, “now,” ed?

    Who is the REAL Barack Obama?

    I don’t like his church.

    Did you know his wife hates whitey?

    He wants to tax Joe the Plumber to give people WELFARE!

  9. I’m skeptical of this. I wanna see some numbers.

    I don’t know why you would be. Most plantation owners had at least a few family members who were raping slaves. Sometimes many, many more than that. Sarah Grimke wrote about how eerie it was to see children who looked just like each other, save for the color of their skin.

    Now, interracial relationships, those are more common today, but she wasn’t claiming that they aren’t. Just that there was more sex going on back then.

  10. “Who is the REAL Barack Obama?”

    Backward B Lady, have you watched the news at all since the election? I wouldn’t be belittling people who were asking that particular question (unless they were working the Muslim angle). That’s kinda like making fun of the people who were warning us about the housing market.

  11. Wait, Barack Obama’s proven himself to a terrorist-sympathizing radical socialist since the election?

    I must have missed that.

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