“‘Not so bad?’ Niya Bates on Monticello’s Signage and the Challenges of Historical Interpretation”

On “Q2: Coming to Terms with Sally Hemings,” we take direction from the signage for the Life of Sally Hemings exhibition at Monticello. The historic site thinks a lot about how to talk about slavery for visitors with a range of different experiences, not wanting to sugar coat the histories of violence. So much so, that they had to install an informational plaque in one of the reconstructed quarters that reads: “Not so Bad?” Here’s an exchange between our host, Deborah McDowell, and Niya Bates, Public Historian of Slavery and African American Life at Monticello in which they discuss that sign.

“In the Chips: Assessing Jefferson’s Principles and Practices”

The decision to use human lives as a pursuit of economic stability would lay the groundwork for our country’s development and the person responsible was Thomas Jefferson. But, why? Why would someone who wrote an entire passage criticizing the slave trade then buy/sell slaves? During a tour of Jefferson’s house, Monticello, I asked our tour guide about why Jefferson didn’t live up to his ideals.

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