John O’Brien and Brad Pasanek Transcript

Indexed Transcript (with audio)

Deborah McDowell – I can see you like to have details that you may be able to use but because I didn’t prepare. I wanted to go back to your website. We’re working on two tenure cases at once. To write so I didn’t get a chance to go back to your wonderful website. But all right James.

James Perla – Yeah,

DMcD You’re in charge.

JP: I’ve been looking at it. And so yeah, I was just wondering if we could just really begin and talking about notes on the state why that’s a still still an important text I know John you you mention that this is still a very relevant text for us at the present moment. So why? Notes.

JOB- I don’t think I have a plan. [1:00]

DMcD  – You’re probably inhibited by,

JOB- Yeah, I don’t have a good good good introductory answer. The book covers so many different things, you know, it is Jefferson’s only book, you know, and we think of Jefferson as a writer, but we think of him as writer of basic or a drafter of things like the Declaration of Independence or letters and fragments.

This is the only thing that is a book that Jefferson did but it’s a very peculiar book because it doesn’t have a narrative. It’s assembled under a categories that it calls queries, which is coming from its occasion as responding to an actual questionnaire that he then expands into something bizarre and marvelous its own way.

It’s not a it’s not a friendly or readable book, you know, it has accounts of the Flora the [2:00] fauna the native tribes the chief exports of various regions of Virginia. It’s kind of like a narrativized gazetteer of the state of Virginia.

JP – What’s it? What’s that.

JOB – Kind of giving you a full account of it’s almost like a statistical summary turned into prose of the state of Virginia.

It also is a was a book that I think quite deliberately puns “the state of Virginia,” the state the entity of Virginia. But also trying to use the use the pages of a book to capture the state of Virginia at a particular moment. And that moment is the moment right? I think at the cusp of nationhood. Because one of the things I think about the timing of the book is that Jefferson published the London Edition 1787 aware that he couldn’t be at what became the Constitutional Convention and this is in effect an attempt to respond.

First of all to something that was several years older by that point, but also to intervene in a way to kind of assert the significance of centrality of Virginia to the project. So they’re all sorts of ways in which the threads that this book and it’s a messy book with red sold over the place continue to leave traces in our world.

JP – And that’s the that’s sort of the you know, our project is sort of punning on the same things about thinking about what the state of our nation is. The state of the Commonwealth is how those things interact and intersect and so I wonder if you have sort of specific examples of how Jefferson, you know applies this in Notes, specific examples of how he refers to Virginia as sort of emblematic or symbolic of the nation at large or you know, what’s [4:00] happening in this text if you have.

Brad Pasanek- I got, I got one. This is this is from Jennifer Greeson now, so I’m just duly footnoted but yeah that he starts with Virginia is part of the game here. So in the beginning there is Virginia. So one of the commentators on the text notes that he’s the son of a mapmaker.

So that geography is important to him but but the idea of locating this if it is a narrative in some way in setting the scene in Virginia is important and sort of noting that Virginia is the original colony and that has sort of the unfolding of that that settler Colonial history sort of proceeds.

What happens is Virginia says, you know own neighboring Colony. You can have some of our land right on with with the notion that right this is the first planting. And yeah you can go from there.

JP – And doesn’t he make Virginia when he’s I wonder if you can talk about I read a little tidbit about how he actually maps Virginia in [5:00] the beginning of Notes on the State the sort of geographical footprint of it.

I’m not sure if you’ve heard about that anecdote, but essentially. He starts and says, you know, Virginia goes from the Blue Ridge to the Appalachia and then it extends beyond, you know these rivers and he ends up getting to New Mexico. And so so very literally, you know, Virginia is the nation. Virginia becomes the sort of like the geographical scope in his in his mapping and I wonder if that’s intentional or if he’s just sort of you know waxing poetic about about the beauty of the U.S’ sort of natural resources and ends up, you know, extending Virginia’s footprint essentially the whole United States at that point.

BP- I mean I took him to be to have a kind of creepy intelligence at all times whether whether it delicately whether it’s intentional or not that that notion of some kind of power of liberty.

[6:00] That’s his phrase, right? Yeah. It’s it’s there and he’s fixated geometrically on lines and if you look at our lawn. There’s this notion that you just keep running and you would also wind up in New Mexico. I think if you just headed down the lawn indefinitely yeah, but that’s I mean that’s those are those are imperial shapes and he’s got them yeah, They’re patterned in coded in at the very beginning.

JOB – I’m not coming up with another anecdote that does the same kind of thing… 

BP- I’ve got another pun for you. He does say… it’s like in the early 19th centuries talking to a publisher about issuing yet another edition and he uses the word stationary to talk about the text that it’s not stationary like our country I think is what he says. So that that he’s aware of the joke. It’s not just our joke or no joke, right. It’s yeah, you know that “state” is a kind of [7:00] right that it covers semantically statistics, as John said, “the state” and this is a moment right when people are sort of first thinking through what “a state” is in this kind of national way and in the context of nations and nation-states, But yeah, so and it’s for us and I think John said this but maybe I’ll make it more explicit.

It’s a text that exists in several “states” in the bibliographic sense. Yeah. So it’s it’s, you know, first drafted in 1781 and then it’s touched up over the next year over the winter, right? The British army is marching through Virginia and he’s measuring groundhogs in the woods, right because he wants he’s still working on this thing. And then it is published but in this strangely private way, so he doesn’t think of it as being published but it’s privately printed for friends and he gives away copies two of which are here at University of Virginia.

The copy he gave to Lafayette and to I’m just printing the house [8:00]. And so that’s a state of the text and the 1787 addition that John talked about this talked till addition is another state of the text, but it was being pirated in coming out in newspapers at this time. Also prompted his publication of it and it’s not I mean, it’s sort of not complete it so badly with world enough and time and funds– I guess– the thing doesn’t sort of come to rest until he’s done writing in his copy, his personal copy which is doing all the way up till I don’t know very late. I don’t know it’s hard to date his final his final markings, but.

JOB – There are some things that clearly must be past a certain point because he’s referring to books that were published as late as say 1813 and 14 or something like that.

BP – So I was trying to look it up this morning but one of the details is he’s… like William Bartram’s travels is cited and he doesn’t know the name of some plant and then we Bartram sort gets him some linnaean clarity he goes back to his copy and he marks. He marks that [9:00] page and and puts in a citation to Bartram.

But so his notes and annotations and cancellations aren’t collected until 1853 when a new edition was published in Richmond and they take his copy and they print it print that copy they print from that copy. And then it’s finally it kind of comes to rest.

So I mean so far as it’s an historically important text. Or a text that’s important that helps us think about America yet. So it starts as a colonial text that passes through the federal moment and brings us right up to the kind of the doorstep of the Civil War. And so that like the way that it’s smeared across the early history of America I think is really important. And so that all the many threads that John referred to the sort of the the early threads of America. So they’re like political, racial, imperial, colonial like a sort of thinking about Federalism is all kind of bound up in that in that process of [10:00] revision of this kind of restless vision.

I mean it’s in one sense a text of natural philosophy. But it’s also it’s a very political text, a strongly political text. The state looms large even when he’s talking about trees plants and moose. I don’t know the different the different animals. He’s interested.

DMcD – If you would permit all of this is quite wonderful.

JP – Yeah, and I think yeah, and I think there’s that sense. That you know the incompleteness but like you’re referring to the multiple states that the text actually developed through: temporal states and actual textual, you know, sort of modification over time, over this historical time period and so I wonder thinking [11:00] about your own project.

I mean it is yours the most complete version of Notes on the State? You know your digital edition with the all the work that you’ve done on the annotations and things is that the sort of true state of Notes on the State that the authoritative state?

JOB- I think at the moment. It’s a digital Edition that aims to have as much bibliographical completeness as we can give it. The truly full Compilation of everything a digital edition of includes everything would also include the manuscript and the manuscript is at the Massachusetts Historical Society, which has been digitized separately and that’s quite a wonderful object in its own right. And the way that they have digitized it is a quite a wonderful thing in its own, right they’ve digitized in a way that is not. It doesn’t speak to our see these two projects do not speak to each other in the in [12:00] a way that would allow you to navigate and see the full range of the text.

I think that’s what you’re referring to is that ultimately that would be lovely to see to see that. What our addition really aimed to do was to give a reading text so that someone coming in could just simply read it. They could also see the changes that Jefferson made to to his own copy. That’s at the University of Virginia library’s Special Collections that were ultimately not part of a printed Edition until 1853. We’ve also given some the digital equivalent of footnotes explaining the things that he refers to it’s a book that’s rich in textual reference. Jefferson drawing on his own library and a part of the goal… I think is not only the to assert the American nation of Virginia, but also to put it in dialogue with European writers [13:00]. You know, he’s writing partly because he wants to assert his own position as a writer in the community of letters.

And so he refers to… and so we had notes that explain that and also have page images of the to two copies the copy that’s of the 1784 Paris Edition, which is this privately published edition that Brad was mentioning and the copy that is in our Special Collections is the copy that he inscribed to Lafayette.

And then his own it his own copy the said of the 1787 London Printing. And to include the page images including his own handwritten marginal notations and the little tips of paper slips of paper that he wrote longer additions to go in that we’ve included so that you can get it you can see the digital facsimile of that. 

And so that’s what our package includes all the things are included. It’s it’s not working a hundred percent correctly. This [14:00], edit this out. It’s not working a hundred percent correctly

JP: As with digital projects….

JOB: As with digital projects in general is that they break and need to be we reworked and there’s some reworking that needs to be done to make it all work again.

JP- And so just a bit of housekeeping and wonder if you can just describe sort of elevator pitch of what your digital edition is and,

BP- It’s a reading copy for students that includes sort of variorum-like these two editions that as you’re reading down the right-hand margin you can see thumbnail-page images. So if there’s something there’s something that you want to investigate further, you can click on the images and and bring the page up and then compare the two pages. That was that was our at least our original pitch.

JOB – Yeah, and our original pitch was I think of it as a bibliographical [15:00] text, you know, you could think about it enables students to work with digital surrogates in a bibliographical context. And it kind of grew or it had to be changed as it became this kind of web artifact rather than the initial idea was actually an iPad Edition, but long story. So they grew,

JP- And what was some of the most surprising things that you learned in doing this project about the text or kind of us surprising anecdote or… ?

JOB – I was surprised going through and annotating and doing notes at the very very large range of books that Jefferson is referring to it’s as if he’s went out of his way to use as much of his Library as possible as reference sources, so he’s got he’s got, you know things that he’s [16:00] referring to text printed in Russian, German, French, Spanish authors and so I think a lot of the the work that he’s doing is to kind of put American and Virginian things into kind of measure them against the scale of other authors who have studied different phenomenon be they environmental phenomenon in a place or a cultural phenomenon in the place and to use the kind of international scale of different kinds of measurement really to to rid. So that was a kind of surprise is the breadth of things that he was trying to bring to bear in answering the questions that the he’s trying to answer here.

JP- It’s a very well Jefferson as a person and maybe the text as well as very aspirational right is that fair to say?

JOB – Aspiration what to what you thinking about?

JP – Yeah, I mean aspirational in terms of [17:00] performing this type of internationalism and intellect and sort of responding to queries from a French diplomat… aspirational for a nation that is just forming to develop a sense of identity. There’s this sort of like myth-making project in it. I mean is that fair to say and sort of like in the context of Jefferson as a persona?

BP – I mean some of this is our groundhogs are just as big as their groundhogs.


But I mean there’s another way in which right so he gets a questionnaire from this Diplomat Marbois. But but in fact, he’s answering questions that he’s imagining Buffon is asking him about what happens when you take a European you transplant in into the new world? So, but I think there’s a there’s an effort on almost every page to sort of say “we’re not degenerating.” Where I’m using the the white we have the [18:00] yeah the European we that that we’re we’re not going to become corrupted by the airs of the new world where the soil of the new world and so in that sense, I don’t know if that’s aspirational but there’s a kind of talking back to Europe.

JP – As you know, we’re sitting here talking in comparison to say something like [Hector St. John de] Crevecoeur’s “Letters from American Farmer,” which seems to me to be very much involved in a project of myth-making, you know, I mean if you read that it’s “What is an American?” and he comes up with the…. and Crevecoeur gets into a kind of fantasy of myth-making that is I think quite quite different from Jefferson. Crevecoeur, for example famously, he sends his narrator to Nantucket and he sees the people of Nantucket who are farming the Atlantic Ocean by hunting for whales.

[19:00]but when he gives the map coordinates for Nantucket, he’s wrong. It’s the there they’re non-existent map coordinates, you know, the latitude and longitude… Jefferson would never make that mistake, if it were a mistake. I think it’s been plausibly argued that Crevecoeur is not making a mistake either that what he’s doing is he’s kind of signaling this as a kind of utopia that you know, it is this is an effect his way of signaling this is a, a no place. The Nantucket that he’s inventing. Whether whichever one you buy…. Jefferson would neither mislead the reader or come up with a joke like that for the reader to play with, nor would he allow himself to make such a mistake. He would correct any such mistake. So, I think Crevecoeur is if you’re thinking of someone who is involved in like a task of very obvious myth-making and fiction making that’s what Crevecoeur is doing. Jefferson is not like that. Jefferson is his [20:00] imagination doesn’t work that way. I think he is a very literal person in a lot of ways and he wants to ground things in extremely literal categories.

BP- Yeah.

DMcD – As it’s been frequently noted, scientific or pseudoscientific to give to these descriptions that kind of pseudo-scientific aura, so as to ensure their verifiability their their objectivity their factuality. Yes.

BP- I would say the closest — this is to add on to what John saying but maybe give it a twist — the closest he comes to something like a mythic imaginative moment would be when he’s thinking about some of the indigenous people in the Native Americans.

So when when he treats like Logan’s speech or something like that. He has a fantasy about the people of America that is involved in his natural [21:00] philosophical project, but that’s when he I think he becomes most romantic. I don’t know where I’m using “romantic” here just over and against sort of the Enlightenment project of the text, but that’s when he seems to have some sort of phantasmagoric attachment to like the the Americas and what they what they what they were I guess before before the Europeans arrived and what they might become so that yeah, he’s at his most, I mean he’s at his most irrational although it’s usually the motive scientific when he’s thinking about the race is the three races that he’s got triangulated in the text he’s using I think the indigenous people in this way that’s, myth-making it’s involved in some kind of myth. Yeah, the people who will be replaced. So this is why he’s digging [21:00] in mounds and this is why he’s trying to capture Logan’s speech as a kind of rhetorical set-piece that school children will have to learn, right? For generations in America.

DMcD – Well, this project is very much in formation and it’s going to be a series of podcasts and we’ve kind of for the purposes of the proposal divided the podcast into topical areas. But ultimately the goal of the project is just to find out from people from all walks of life what Jefferson still has to teach us? And not only that how do we take the conversation about Jefferson from this very reflexive place which looks something like this: 

Well, Jefferson is the architect of the Declaration of Independence, a Founding Father, a proponent of the egalitarianism, etc and yet he owns slaves. And so that it seems to be that most conversations about Jefferson at least in even not just in formal, in scholarly ways tend in some way to veer between these two positions are variations on them. So that’s a long-winded kind of description of what we were doing, but to ask you to find a point of access into what he has to teach us now and how can that teaching take us beyond these reflexive polarities?  

BP- We both teach this text.

So I teach a class on the late 18th century. That’s a that’s transatlantic course about abolition and revolution. He’s in that course alongside Samuel Johnson and Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke and a number of other kind of late 18th century thinkers. So I teach when I teach the text [24:00], I don’t teach us so much as a American text.

I teach it as a transatlantic text, and I’m particularly interested in it’s kind of this the beginnings of scientific racism. I guess that’s the way I end up teaching it. And I guess teaching here at UVA is always interesting because the students come in with ideas about Jefferson often inchoate ideas about Jefferson.

And if they do have an idea, I like this “he is and yet” I think usually the way I use this in the classroom is people say that Jefferson’s a kind of paradox and I think what I what I want the students to to where I want them to end up as sort of this is not a paradox this way these things go together in very obvious and frightening ways.

JP – Can you say more about that?

BP – Well so that I think that the, I don’t know. You’re not going to want to see your podcast and I shouldn’t be I should be saying this anyway, but like so I was reading [Vladimir] Lenin last week and so like his definition of “the state” is that which [25:00] comes out of and as put above a society so that what states are for is producing a particular class, which must be oppressed.

That’s what I mean. One of the projects of this Notes on the State would be this kind of this kind of project or project of oppression.

DMcD: It should go in the podcast!

BP: Yeah, but yeah, it’s fine. We’ve all internalized Lenin at this point, I guess right. Yeah, so I think like one of the things that I find interesting about Jefferson where it’s his it’s his this is a particular kind of game that he’s playing always that he wants to not say what he means or he wants to not be held accountable.

He’s kind of a moving target. This is the way the Notes on the State of Virginia works…. his discourse as written against Buffon in a kind of I don’t know. I want to say like [26:00] seemingly anti-racist mode, but what he does is produce a new kind of racism. And so that’s like that’s for me quintessentially Jeffersonian… or as one of my mentors pointed out, this is a guy who sleeps in the wall, like who when you go to his house. He’s neither. He’s neither in his office nor in the next room. He’s he’s always finding some liminal space and he’s going to inhabit it. And that’s… 

JP – That’s not a serpentine wall.

BP – Right, right he just he will not commit. And so yet the like I did bring a quote just because I don’t know this is an example of it. Yeah, so he’s writing he’s writing to Buffon that he’s unwilling or no no wait…where is this sorry. Yeah, “I do not mean to deny that there are varieties in the race of man distinguished by their powers both of body and mind” — and this is in the middle of an attempt to deny that there that there are the there are kind of “races” or like in an attempt to complicate what we might mean by “races” [27:00] whether they are or not geographical whether or not they’re speciated in some way or they belong to environment or like…. 

Yes, a state here would be like whether they’re product of an environment or they’re somehow in process… You move someone from one part of the world to the other and they’ll darken like their skin will darken the skin the sun will change them.

JOB – This kind of environmentalism always come from environment because you know one other term people use to race up in the point had to do with you know, like I am of the race of the O’Briens. You know, that that it’s a you’re a group ethnicity or a clan or something like that race often gets used in those ways up until this point and he’s imagining trying to fuse it with a kind of environmentalism that you know, it is linked in some essential ways to the environment that people developing and it’s one of the ways in which the [28:00] environmental parts of the book when he’s not trying to describe the natural environment relate very much to the human the human parts of the book to the social environment.

These these very real connections to him. I teach him much the same way, you know thinking about and it’s it’s real revelation to you know, one thing for the paradox is that someone told someone said I can’t remember who it is paradoxes are just a fancy way of saying something that we’d rather not explain, you know.

DMcD  – I like that

JOB- And that you know, you know Jefferson really is ahead of most writers of this period in trying to come up with a way to make racial difference have it have a scientific [29:00] scientific basis for what he wants to think of as racial difference. No one there’s really no text before Notes of the State of Virginia that I believe actually does this.

It’s the beginning.

DMcD  It’s not the prototype for what will come.

JOB – There’s actually a significant time lag between that and the next articulation.

DMcD  – Right and it seems to take the discourse before anthropology, which is escaping me right now. No, no, no starts with a P though [phrenology]. It’ll come to me in a minute. Yeah, it’ll come to me but yes, you’re right. There is a tremendous gap. I want to pick up– were you finished John?– to pick up on something you said because this is completely in my mind and when I have done this book in classes and students just kind of look at me. I mean like unabashedly like “really, lady?” because I have attempted to suggest in parts of the text [30:00] the ways in which when Jefferson is talking about say hybridity in the natural world in the in the botanical sense that the text really takes on…. that the passions of the text rise to the surface.

It seems to me the language, the tempo. I mean, it’s all kind of crazy. But they and they kind of laugh at me that something happens to Jefferson when he’s talking about hybridity when he’s talking about crossbreeding and you know, I don’t manage to convince them of that. But in my own head something happens involuntarily in the text when he’s talking about and that we can actually see the way the rhythms the movement of sentence. It’s like very minor very subtle. But in my head that [31:00] that is something that reinforces your point that in talking about the environment. He’s ever seek seeking to link it to the human and to the social.

BP – This is a strange displacement so that you have discussions of slavery go under the heading “Manners.”

DMcD: Right.

BP: Yeah, and so you expect to find all these kind of category mistakes as you read the text. Anyway that you get involved in these kinds of category mistakes, because those though they’re his category mistakes and I think because of his, I don’t want to call it his kind of flat, opaque sort of way of managing his public presence. You have to read him this way. So I’m with you. He often expresses. Yeah, what feels like something erotic in a strange moment so that under the case that I teach and think about again, as a kind of like [32:00] this would be brought before the jury, I guess, is that he’s in Europe and he sees painting a Dutch painting of “Sarah and Hagar,” the sort of giving permission to sleep with the slave, right? A representation of a biblical story and he writes to Mariah Causeway and he says, “this painting is delicious.”

That’s that’s his word and he’s in theory having a conversation with someone about, you know, the tradition of art history. But he actually seems to be getting himself sort of permission to sleep with his his wife’s half-sister, right? Yeah. That’s I mean, it’s like he seems to be processing these things in all the places you wouldn’t expect him to.

DMcD  – Yeah. I’m glad to is really laugh when I try to make these suggestions, but you know, they can seem kind of flat-footed I can see when I’m talking about them. But I say, you know, well, let’s just think about it. I mean, this is a matter of [33:00] speculation speculation has its place. We’re not saying this is. But what if we thought about the ways in which this man of the Enlightenment, this man of “reason,” how we might think of that… those truths about Jefferson in more holistic senses, or in fuller dimension. That’s also it’s not a statement about… Because I also find him I shared with James one of my very favorite Jefferson letters that he’s writing to Adams when Adams’s is wife dies. I think it’s just one of the most amazing. It’s a letter, it’s a condolence letter but it’s it’s it’s the most amazing eulogy and the kind of straightforward sensitivity [34:00] to this man’s loss. I find in that letter. I don’t see that way of thinking and processing in Notes. You know, it’s almost like it’s a completely different Jefferson there. So I,

JP – So I was going to say I wonder you know, just because the topic of teaching courses came up and that’s convenient sort of model. But I wonder if you if you could leave your students as sort of one thing about Jefferson that coming out of your course that they might take to think about and take with them into the world what it might be?  If that’s a tough enough, that’s a stumper, but if you could only teach sort of one sort of big takeaway about Jefferson what might that might that be maybe there’s that conversation about what paradox means, I think that’s a really important.

BP – I’m going to quote a historian whose name I’m forgetting, but he says if the British had shot Jefferson in 1782, we would we would [35:00] remember him as one of the great sort of opponents of slavery as a powerful American voice against racism, but right? That he continued to work on the Notes of the state of Virginia and sort of work out in letters his sort of perverse way of thinking about the different “peoples of the world” hybridized and the American space. We see something else yeah. We see this legacy of slavery sort of worked out politically ideologically, instead and you know detail by detail, I guess one of the things that that I like to show my students in the notes is a page where he’s listing slaves from the classical world who contributed importantly to sort of “thought,” Western thought, and he goes back to that page at some point and he keeps adding new Greek and Roman names because he’s working, he’s trying to tip the balance against [36:00] the African-Americans that he’s surrounded by so you can so you can watch you can you can watch him sort of work, you know to a darker like a like to you can watch him work his way to a stranger and stranger more pathologically racist place as if you follow him, you know through the states of the Notes on the State of Virginia.

DMcD  – Right, and seeking to justify it you know. So that it will not appear to be racist at all. We know that he’s working himself into that, but he’s trying, you know, indefatigably to work himself out of that, right?

JOB – He’s really giving intellectual and ultimately institutional support to an apparatus of white supremacy, you know, and I think it deserves to be said in pretty much those terms, you know.

McDowell – Yes, I think so. Absolutely. Unabashed. Unapologetic.

JOB- [34:00] Yes. Yeah and that and it’s not only in this text which is an institution of its own. It’s in the University of Virginia, which is designed and you know, Garry Wills, made this point. I’m not inventing this Garry Wills made this point that it’s designed to provide a training ground for the white aristocracy of the South, who will know how to operate in the system of slavery and be fully adequate to meet the challenge of the Harvard boys, who they will have to oppose in Congress and future. And also in his political economy because that’s what I ended up writing about elsewhere is that, Jefferson famously Jefferson and Hamilton found each other on either sides of a way of thinking about a national economy. And Hamilton is thinking about it in terms of a kind of federalism where you use the institutions of banks to federalize the finances and federalize the debt. [38:00] Jefferson is thinking much more in terms of local what we could become known as “states rights” that the economies have to be built from local entities up rather than from the national entity down and very much opposing the concentration of wealth and power in corporations and banks. And that the tension between the sense of individual rights and rights based in local communities and a national national power that would be institutionalized in things like banks and corporations and a federal government is one that we continue to live with and Jefferson is on… Jefferson is definitely on the side of the the local and the state, rather than the national and the corporate. And, you know, I have sympathy actually for being against the corporate but it’s not [39:00] he’s not thinking of the future. But I think that the tension between these two things is because it continues to be part of the way that the political economy gets fought in this country.

DMcD – That’s really a wonderful observation.

You know, Notes because it is a kind of gazette or I often think of it as a miscellany and you know that as a miscellany it really invites a lot or encourages a lot of conversation about isolated phenomena that we can’t necessarily link to whatever development there is in the book. It isn’t a narrative. It holds together in weird ways, but not in the ways we typically think of a book’s coherence.

I have over the years as one of these kind of one-off things always been fascinated [40:00] by Jefferson’s architectural drawings and particularly its prison drawings and which are also in the Massachusetts Historical Society. So when we organized the conference a few years back on Mass Incarceration here at Woodson I used in the brochure those drawings. They were never executed. But Jefferson was himself very closely involved with all the leading prison architects of the day in creating what was, would become the first ever penitentiary in Virginia, but he had submitted these drawings to the Commonwealth from France. He was in France and asked to imagine a prison. And so when we think about Jefferson we think about someone also being at [41:00] the birth of a whole lot of things that we are now contending with. Not just this tension, you’ve observed between him and Hamilton but I remember during that conference Angela Davis was here and I was walking her down the Lawn or where the student rooms are it was the spring. It was in April and she says, “oh the rooms look like little cells” and so any kind of random thoughts. I don’t know why I can’t get out a question without spending the page to introduce it. 

BP – His architecture always reads for me is as having lots of import. So yeah, so just walk. I mean you’re walking these, I’m going to use the Jeffersonian where they finally got to me after all these years the grounds, right? Yeah, but walking this walking this campus. [42:00] I mean you can’t help but respond to the way in which it disciplines your body and makes you walk around and that you have access to certain things and not other things. I mean the it’s the house… I guess so, it’s Monticello that first made me kind of like I had a meltdown of a kind when I was walking underneath the house and realized that underneath the house are what are called “the dependencies,” right? Is that is that right?

DMcD  – Yes, that’s what they’re called.

BP – Yeah, and I thought the author of the Declaration of Independence like has structured his home like into a space that’s for the independent and another space that’s for the “dependents.” Yeah. That yes of that written written into that that home as it would be in any home is a very obvious distinction, right? And again, yeah, it’s race, class, space: that certain people go below [43:00] and some people belong above and yeah, and you can see that you can see that here on this campus. Maybe, maybe it’s less obvious or I don’t know it’s there’s something about the naming of the dependencies that just made it scream out at me.

DMcD – Yeah. I was looking for the conference brochure, I’m sure you’ve seen these drawings.

BP – No, I haven’t seen these drawings. Are they Benthemite? Do they have the 18th century structure with the surveying eye in the middle? 

DMcD  – No, no they don’t have that but they’re divided racially. They are divided according to gender and he has long pages or on the back of a long section describing the materials how many materials would be needed. I’m sure I have an a copy somewhere. I thought I had one here in my office so because we printed the [44:00] images in the program.

In fact, when we did the conference proceedings I know a miniature version is in the in the book, so let me get the book because you’ll see. Yeah, they’re in the Massachusetts Historical Society. So, I remember in my opening remarks for the symposium, I said, “Jefferson was present at the birth of the prison…” And I think we do have… one small version of, yeah we have them… 

[shows prison drawing in 2009 Woodson Institute symposium on Mass Incarceration]

JOB – It does look a lot like the Lawn. Is that right? The central path and [45:00] then also sells on your side and then something at the top. That is really interesting… 

JP – So maybe just describe what we’re looking at here…

DMcD  – We’re looking at Jefferson’s…. one of two drawings… that are housed in the Massachusetts Historical Society that were a prison plan submitted by Jefferson for a cell for solitary confinement. And it’s in the manuscript collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society. What we don’t have here is the page on the back of this page where he’s actually describing what it would cost provisionally to build and what materials would be used, but it’s right here. And that he is as I said a few minutes ago in close touch with the leading prison architects of the day and [46:00] this is not these drawings are not executed.

But here he is thinking… “white females” on one side.

“Black females” on the other “white males, black males.” I don’t have my glasses.

BP – Each to their own cell. Then there’s a there’s a separate category. So “white male debtors,” “white female debtors,” right? There’s no of course, right? I guess this this tells you a lot about what America looks like no “black debtors,” right?

DMcD  – Yes exactly, no black debtors.

JP – And why would that be?

BP – Because there’s the ability to own any kind of property. Yeah. Yeah, it’s blocked illegally.  I mean, this is a fascinating thing. I’ve never seen before. Yeah, I don’t know and it like my like structuralist instincts are working overtime just looking at [47:00] it…. I mean only because what so it’s got this “e pluribus unum” effect where there’s like a solitary cell which is not gendered, or raced, or classed.

So that if you if you won’t sort of do what you’re supposed to do. If you’re right, the white female debtor, right? You can be promoted to the solitaries to solitary confinement. That’s the Benthamite space. So it’s I’m thinking of the panoptic sort of the famous image of a panoptic prison is one. It’s a kind of 18th century idea that also was sort of imagined and not executed until much later, but it’s this idea that you create a space for people to be alone with their crimes with the memory of their crimes. 

DMcD – And there’s the imagination that this is a benevolent act because you know people are not out in visible spaces, you know, they’re alone to contemplate their yeah.

JOB: It’s penance 

DMcD: It’s yeah to do but that’s penitent [48:00] Penitentiary from the word penance from doing penance and that this is in the prison philosophy of the day assumed to be a benevolent progressive idea about prisons and criminals.

BP – So Jefferson’s already dividing debtors from other prisoners, which is so that’s again a kind of modern at modernizing Enlightenment progressive move. But then he’s further dividing people right by race and gender and then holding them all in the same place. Yeah. It’s very Jeffersonian.

DMcD  – Yeah. I was just so taken by and we then ended up, we also have in the brochure the prison that was actually built. It doesn’t exist any longer but here he is involved in so many many things. [49:00] He’s at the birth of so much that has come to define this nation for good and for ill.

JOB – So I’m thinking about the you mention about the house and about this and thinking about issues of like sight and what you see and surveillance in the way that you know, as you say the Lawn. The Lawn was designed so that you could look out, but that also I think Jefferson’s imagination was that as the university grew they just simply continue the lawn out down the hill as long as long as it needed to be.

Isn’t it true that at Monticello when you stand, you know when you’re in the house and you look out you don’t see the slave quarters because they’re below the hill, right? And again the sense of your that the landscape itself and the architecture very much built into the landscape is designed to promote, you know, visual patterns of even your the eyesight encodes which is what you’re saying, it encodes [50:00] relationships of independence and dependency of power and designed from designed from the very start to do that.

DMcD – And I think lots of people have written about that idea and the way in which the architecture supports invisibilizing labor. Yeah.

BP- So that yeah the invention of the dumbwaiter, there are ways in which the servant will not enter the dining room turning turning shelves and dumbwaiters. Yeah to make the food appear without with without a person.

DMcD – Yeah, we don’t see who’s producing the food. Things on underground, all with all of that suggests, you know the underground architecture the nomenclature of dependency.

Yes, all of this is highly racialized in ways that people have talked about it.

JP- One thing I was thinking as you were describing the Lawn perpetually extending [51:00] out for research. We just started reading this book about progress about Jefferson and progress in the author’s discussing the way in which the the conception of time around I guess the eighteenth century would or or the 19th century as railroads were beginning to be developed… That time became linear sort of displayed onto the actual construction of the railroad tracks… as going sort of forward in space, you know to arrive at a station at certain point in time. And so I mean just thinking about this as the lawn is actually a linear would be a linear continuation that this idea of progress as sort of a straight line that is going out that as time progresses the actual physical space is going linearly forward to… 

Yeah, and I don’t know I just that thought came up as you’re discussing sort of that comparison [52:00] between a circular space or like the Rotunda is like a kind of continual circle versus like all the straight line going directly forward in time. And so I just wanted to throw that out there.

But yeah, I know but I’m also being speaking of time and being mindful of time and you’re all of your time and one thing I did again sort of a crazy thought that came to me as I was talking to a friend who does work in data science and with databases. Is Notes on the State a database?

And this is sort of it without you know preference but you know thinking about the idea of a “query” that you know x equals y that I’m going to ask a query about this and get a certain return results and sort of the statistical and sort of tallying nature of the text.

BP- [53:00] When I got here at UVA it was 2008 and I think it was shortly after that John. I may be started talking about this project, but the PMLA had just done an issue or a sort of discussion section on narrative and database as kind of opposites. So in so far as the text resists narrative, right? You would assign it to the “other” category, that’s how binaries work but in that discussion. In that the PMLA discussion there was this there was an effort made by several of the contributors to think about 18th century forms, dictionaries and encyclopedias as being in one way or another databases. I mean what makes it especially nice is it’s the language of “query” but that’s we have to we have to play some sort of anachronistic game with with a kind of back formation. But but certainly I don’t look I usually don’t read the “Notes” through when I reread it these days. [54:00] I just opened it up and I look things up and to I don’t make my students in this course read through. I signed them queries to read.

DMcD – Yeah I think we all do. It would be a hard book to teach, to read through. Students would you know get portable evaluations.

JP – You know we, I think Brad’s pointed out when like the 18th century came up with a whole lot of different ways of organizing knowledge. You know, the dictionary, the encyclopedia and these continue to please continue to use those for the forms… the thesaurus. There are various kinds of statistical inventions that came out of the 18th century. The organizing something according to “query” is a whole different way of thinking about how you would organize knowledge. That is an 18th century thing that actually hasn’t lasted that, you know, we don’t do that anymore. But you know, you know “Borgesean” and universe one could imagine, you know, an alternate version where that became a way of [55:00] organizing knowledge that we continue to do. The database metaphor I guess works to a certain extent but also doesn’t work to a certain extent.

DMcD – You see echoes of this in a text like Keywords. Raymond Williams’ Keywords.There are other you know with people who write in these when I thinking I never know how to pronounce his name when you see somebody you read his books. I’ve read several books of his C-i-o-r-a-n… but I don’t I’ve never known how to pronounce his name because I’ve never heard it pronounced. Yeah. Yeah, but anyway, but that’s I think of him organizing knowledge and some of these ways but yeah Keywords being a kind of not an analogy but kind of reminiscent of organizing knowledge in those ways.

JOB – We asked question sections of any website that [56:00] the FAQ section of websites is another that’s part of the model.

DMcD – Yeah because well Jefferson is organizing these sections according to queries in that we know that they originate in questions. That’s where I think we leave it, right? Because it’s also a text that raises questions.

BP – It doesn’t answer the questions at least not in the mode that Marbois would expect. He gets a questionnaire and he returns a book, that’s not right. Yeah, that’s.

DMcD  – Exactly, exactly yeah.

JOB – So it gets associative…. like he starts off on one topic and that leads him to something else.

DMcD: It’s a very associative book.

JOB: Yeah, it leads him to something else. The logic is only clear as association rather than causality or narrativation. [57:00] And that’s where we kind of see– I guess, what we’ve been talking about a lot is the “Jeffersonian unconscious,” you know. And the books that have has these moments I was you’re talking about the the way that he gets the language gets a kind of energy when he talks about the issues of hybridity. That’s that’s an unconsciousness coming coming forth. Right? But the logics are of that species rather than the logic of narrative, the logic of plot, the logic of a dictionary, the logic of cause and effect. It’s a… the vehicle enables those kinds of things to do to happen.

DMcD  – Yes, and I think, in a way, back to one of the observations I forget which one of you made… about the incompleteness of the book the indefiniteness that there’s a way in which this [58:00] block of knowledge in response to a literal or figurative query is itself something that doesn’t necessarily have to stand… it can always be amended… that the query in essence can exist in perpetuity, right? So, you know, I haven’t I’ve committed myself to this, in this moment in time, but this is subject to change at any time.

You know, which is a tremendous alibi, you know? I would yeah. I love those sections to where you see him actually stepping out from behind all of this pseudo-scientific detached commentary on whatever…. to actually exercise a moral sensibility. We discussions don’t often point to that. I mean, I’m really quite taken when he says, you know, “I shudder that God does not sleep.” You know, that these things we were doing here… That “the boisterous passions” that are developing between these two groups of people one held in subjugation by the other, you know, “I shudder at” because he’s really imagining a kind of justice, really… that will await people enslaving other people. And you don’t see that very much in the work, but it’s very firm and thus stands out for that reason, you know. I shudder… a person who hasn’t been ambivalent relationship at best for religion. I shudder that God is not asleep. You know, that there is this this force that will bring down the kind of judgment. Again, it’s an odd moment like those moments. Like when I imagine that the text gets very hot and bothered.

BP: Do you want the quotation? Yeah, I’ll read it out. Yeah, cause it’s powerful. Yeah? “Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just that his Justice cannot sleep forever that considering numbers nature and natural means only a revolution of The Wheel of Fortune in exchange of situation is among possible events. That it may become probable by Supernatural interference.” Yeah exclamation point. yeah, but that he sees the wheel will turn. Yeah. He’s a “revolutionary.”

DMcD: Yeah. And that’s Jefferson’s long-winded way–and talk about people being long-winded– but Jefferson’s long-winded way of saying, you know, the Martin Luther King famous quote “the arc of the moral universe bends toward Justice, right? And that is what he’s saying there. That the arc of the moral universe to restore justice and then there can be a reversal of positions.

Yeah, these rare moments that I think speak so much more powerfully because in tone they depart so demonstrably from what we are reading. We’re reading along and there is a kind of studious or attempt at a studious neutrality. That then in a passage like that, is totally gone.

JOB: Thinking of that… it’s rare among his contemporaries, you know that kind of language and and that outburst is rare among his contemporaries, you know? Yeah, which what makes him so credibly fascinating and vexing.

DMcD: This kind of control… really rhetorical tightness. Well, it’s not even tightness, but the the efforts at control, the efforts at containment, and that there are these moments in the text where it says if the text just breaks the bounds or he basically loses it and delivers a passage like that. Yeah. Now you have decided to have no idea you were planning to take this, but you both have given so

JP: A lot for us is to think about a lot of topics that come up.

BP: Well, I thinking I really like this project and I was thinking about it. I had a conversation completely what was really to see some ways, you know, Luis Nelson who’s in the Vice Provost’s Office now to do outreach in the community. And we were talking about the way that you know, this place needs to completely reimagine the way it talks about itself in its history, you know, and we talked about like we have a new president coming in who and who I think will be charged with some of that but this kind of project is the kind of thing. We need to do all over the place to start coming up with the new ways in which we can think about and both to ourselves but publicly about the university and its history and Jefferson and really I think we’re still struggling with the ways in which those stories that we have to tell about ourselves.

DMcD: I think so. That this project has its own autonomy. We applied for some of the Bicentennial money, but we see it very much as a part of a larger project, we’ve been doing for about a year now called a Citizen Justice project Engaging Race in Digital Spaces, and I don’t know if you. James’ “Illusion of Progress,” it’s the first installment. I will send it to you. It’s a story map. And we worked with high school students and UVA students last summer and what’s so amazing about it is that it was virtually done before August 11th and 12th, and it was it was really. These deep roots of racism and white supremacy at UVA and in Charlottesville. And again before those events unfolded but part of the Citizen Justice project. It’s just this we have to find new ways of talking about the issues that continue to control us. Continue to contain or inhibit progress and development in meaningful ways. And I’m not a proponent of you know, the kind of ideology of progress, but there’s a way in which we all inherited a script about Jefferson particularly that is that operates here on grounds and what we are what we really love about this project is that so much of it comes from the not so much the dictates about the wishes of ordinary citizens in Charlottesville, because when we began the project, we just interviewed people not not randomly, but people that we kind of thought we needed to talk to: what would you like to see? What would you like to see? The University be doing especially– this emerged in the context of the monuments controversy. And so we took our instructions as it were from the Blue Ribbon commission, right? You know, that we want a fuller more complex more complete more comprehensive history. And so that’s where we started. So although this is a different project– We constantly have to try to raise money because we have no money– but but it’s very much in the spirit of the Citizen Justice project making Jefferson available. We are really. Doing person on the street interviews?

You don’t we just give it you know, because we have a captive audience any parents bringing their children to tour here, right? You know you wanted this afternoon. Yeah, so tell us yeah, so we don’t know what’s going to happen, but we want to be open to what we learn and to be guided and in Jefferson’s words “let knowledge take us where [it leads]… you know, I don’t have that quoted embedded either, but you know the one I mean around Old Cabell Hall, we’re going to follow knowledge where it leads us in and we hope it leads us to reconsideration of Jefferson that neither continues to glorify and reify him, iconize him… nor does it seek to destroy him as an icon but really to make him touchable for our times.

JP: Yeah, so definitely keep in touch. If you have ideas of ideas pop up about topics that you suggest we should pursue and if anything comes out of this conversation that you want to follow up on just feel free to reach out.

JP: Yeah and last bit of housekeeping. Can I just ask you to say your name and your sort of title of

JOB: John O’Brien professor of English  

BP: Brad Pasanek Professor of English– or Associate Professor of English.. I guess I messed it up saying my title correctly Brad Pasanek Associate Professor of English.

DMcD: Yeah so very helpful. Thank you. You know, I think we should do much more collaborative work. You know, I really are we typically do things kind of in pairs typically and I’ve done some of that work, but I think this is so so wonderful to me that we three colleagues talk about this because we never talk like this.

BP: Yeah, and we all teach this. We all teach this book….

JP: Thank you this has been so helpful. And there were definitely some gems that came out of that conversation…

[Tape ends]



Many thanks to all of the distinguished guests featured on our series, unless otherwise noted interviewees are affiliated with the University of Virginia.

  • Melody Barnes, Vice Chair of the Board of Monticello, Professor of Practice in Public Affairs, and Co-Director of UVA’s Democracy Initiative
  • Niya Bates, Public Historian of African-American Life and Culture at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello
  • Ian Baucom, Dean of the College & Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
  • Mia Bay, Roy F. and Jeannette P. Nichols Chair in American History at the University of Pennsylvania
  • Dennis Childs, Associate Professor of English at the University of California, San Diego
  • Sonya Clark, Artist and Distinguished Research Fellow in the School of the Arts at Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Kyle Dargan, Associate Professor in the Department of English Literature at American University
  • Marlene Daut, Associate Director of the Carter G. Woodson Institute and Associate Professor of African-American and African Studies
  • Robert Fatton, Jr., Julia A. Cooper Professor of Government and Foreign Affairs in the Department of Politics
  • Noelle Hurd, Scully Family Discovery Associate Professor of Psychology
  • Deborah McDowell, Director of the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African American and African Studies and Alice Griffin Professor of English Literature
  • John O’Brien, Professor of English Literature
  • Kwame Otu, Assistant Professor of African-American and African Studies
  • Brad Pasanek, Associate Professor of English Literature
  • David Thorsen, Tour guide at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello
  • Mabel O. Wilson, Professor of Architecture, a co-director of Global Africa Lab (GAL) and the Associate Director at the Institute for Research in African American Studies at Columbia University
  • Lisa Woolfork, Associate Professor of English Literature

Below we provide the full version of each interview that went into the creation of “Notes on the State.” [Please note: the archiving process is still underway, this page will be updated as work is completed. Additionally, not all interviewees will be represented below, given that some interviewees opted out of archiving the full interview on our project website.]

Melody Barnes Transcript (featured in “Query 2: Coming to Terms with Sally Hemings”)

Niya Bates, Indexed Transcript (Featured in “Query 1: The Difference Jefferson Makes” and “Query 2: Coming to Terms with Sally Hemings”)

Ian Baucom Transcript, Dean of the College & Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Mia Bay Transcript, (Featured on “Query 2: Coming to Terms with Sally Hemings”)

Dennis Childs Transcript, (To feature on forthcoming episode: Thomas Jefferson at the Birth of the Prison)

Sonya Clark, Artist and Distinguished Research Fellow in the School of the Arts at Virginia Commonwealth University

Kyle Dargan, Associate Professor in the Department of English Literature at American University

Marlene Daut, (Featured on “Query 2: Coming to Terms with Sally Hemings” and forthcoming episode on Thomas Jefferson and Haiti)

Robert Fatton, Jr. Transcript, (Featured on “Query 2: Coming to Terms with Sally Hemings” and forthcoming episode on Thomas Jefferson and Haiti)

Noelle Hurd Transcript, (To feature in forthcoming episode about Thomas Jefferson and monuments)

David Thorsen Transcript, Tour guide at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello walking the Notes on the State research team through “the Hemings Family Tour” of Monticello

John O’Brien and Brad Pasanek, Indexed Transcript (with audio) (Featured in Query 1: The Difference Jefferson Makes)

Mabel O. Wilson Transcript (To feature in forthcoming episode: Thomas Jefferson at the Birth of the Prison)

Lisa Woolfork, Indexed Transcript (Featured in “Query 2: Coming to Terms with Sally Hemings”)

Lisa Woolfork

Transcript (text only)

Interviewee: Lisa Woolfork, Associate Professor of English Literature at the University of Virginia

Interviewer(s): Deborah E. McDowell; James Perla

Interview date: 2018-07-23

Interview Summary: Interview with Lisa Woolfork, Associate Professor of English at UVa. The interview took place at the Carter G. Woodson Institute. In it, Woolfork discussed the shrouding of the Thomas Jefferson statue on September 11th 2017, the responsibility of institutions during times of crisis, and Jefferson’s grievances in the Declaration of Independence.

Keywords: Thomas Jefferson, #Charlottesville, the Declaration of Independence, slavery, Sally Hemings, rape

Transcription: Hahna Cho

the Shrouding of UVA's Jefferson Statue on September 11, 2017

James Perla: one of the things that we’re interesting about is thinking about the project of ways to think about Jefferson in more complicated ways. The moment that sticks out to us that you might have some connections to is the moment of the shrouding of the statue [the Jefferson statue] in the Fall, what was that September 2017? Were you there during that event?

Lisa Woolfork: Yes, I was there. It was in the evening. I remember it was raining. Students had climbed up to put a black shroud over the statue. And there was also a sign that said Black Lives Matter. This was an action that was, I believe, led by the Graduate Student Alliance, which works in support of [1:00] EVASU, but also lots of community members came out. A lot of faculty from religious studies and faculty from other departments came to support the students. Some who had been absent because they were either out of town for the action on August 11th or there, but not there. So there were a lot of people coming out to lend support.

JP: Solidarity of sorts. Can you describe the scene?

LW: I believe it was a two-pronged approach. Students had been assembled at the President’s house. Then they walked from the house across, down grounds, down that part of the grounds, the arts grounds, and across the street to assemble at the statue. In the meantime, some of the faculty, students, community members, came from the lawn side, came up over the rotunda. In some ways following a similar path that the white supremacists followed to get to the statue. So we [2:00] kind of met up and converged. Some came from the Chapel area. So, it was really a nice convergence of support with students, graduate students, faculty, community members, there were people there who were not affiliated with UVa at all who were there to support the students and to really resist, I think, this narrative that the white supremacists had laid down there a month earlier.

JP: How many people would you say were there?

LW: I can’t remember. It was quite a few. It was more than quite a few. I’m sorry, I can’t say what the exact numbers were.

JP: Yeah, not that crowd size matters…

Deborah McDowell: Only some people are concerned with crowd size… people with small hands.

JP: What was the feeling like?


LW: It was really, to be standing out in the dark and in the rain, it was still a very empowering and affirming, um moment to kind of place yourself in the same place where students have been made vulnerable and attacked. Some students, staff, faculty who had been harmed during that time and to kind of reclaim that space and to be willing to stand out there. Um, I thought was just a testament to the resolve that we as Charlottesville people want to write their own story. They want to rewrite it. They want to um actually close the gap between the promises of this nation and the practices of this nation and it seems like that moment was an example of that.

James Perla: It must have been so raw still I mean, what was that? So that was September?

LW: It was September 11th. I think it was exactly one month after and so that was um, chronologically one month distant, but I know for some people it didn’t [4:00]feel like much time had elapsed last at all. Um, and so I think that it’s really difficult to underestimate the weight of that event once you’ve been in the middle of it or once you’ve been a witness to it or once you’ve been a failed witness as a colleague has described.

JP: What do you mean by that?

LW: I mean, a colleague has written this really great piece that appeared pretty much maybe a week or two after the events of August 11th, and he was um, standing at the church on the outside of the church when the white supremacists marched up and he saw everything. But he didn’t go over because um, the training that people had gotten was to not intervene, was to protect the church, etc. etc. And so it was it was a very morally complicated time and the piece that he wrote is called Moral Trauma. Um for someone who is an ethicist or someone who [5:00] is who wants to do the right thing about how challenging it is to kind of believe that you’re taking a stand in faith and in resolve that also might leave others vulnerable. And so I think there’s a lot of people who are still working through those types of decisions, people that I know who wish they had more or weren’t present but which that they had been. It makes you think about what the place of the university is, what the task of the university is, what the work of the university is, and what it means to be in community. Um, and so there’s lots of people who have been thinking about this for much longer than I have in this way. I mean for me before, community involvement was being the president of my child’s PTO at the elementary school. Those were the things that I was very comfortable with doing I do those all the time, but this type of resistance was [6:00] new to me and like many people I was galvanized by the 2016 presidential election and just felt like I could not be silent.

Origins of A11 and A12, 2017 in Blue Ribbon Commission

JP: Yeah, I knew you were involved in some of the monument debates around the Blue Ribbon commission as well. That is that fair to say?

LW: Yes. Yes. Um, I believe that a lot of people. Um, I think it was interesting that the Blue Ribbon commission which had been impaneled by city council to study the monuments and their place in the city was had been impaneled for a little while. I think it might have been impaneled maybe in March or February. Um, and the meetings had gone on with lot with not very much public commentary, but after November when Trump was elected, people started showing up to those meetings and it was really funny because you’d have these older white folks who have been coming to every one so that they could talk about their conservative, you know, I’m sorry not conservative, Confederate, um, great grandfather who [7:00] served in the war and how they were so proud of their legacy were stunned at people coming to talk about these monuments as racist. And where have these, I think one woman actually said, “Where did these people come from? I’ve been coming to these meetings since March and no one has complained about the monuments being bad and now all of a sudden, here they come saying that they’re about racism. That’s nonsense.” And I think that a lot of people were shaking out of this melees or apathy or whatever when Trump won and it changed, um people’s approach to to politics beyond just the measures of voting.

JP: Yeah, you know, that is so true. And so, um returning to that moment of I guess I mean because I’m thinking to I mean like we always, we were all observing and sort of like reluctant and compromised kind of onlookers. I know that night I was with a group before they went. Some of the organizers before [8:00] they went to the statue and I went home because I had plans to to be out on you know, on the day and I was like, I’m gonna go to sleep. I need to be ready for this and so to go home and kind of go to sleep while all this is happening, you know, so I think everyone has those sort of moments of wondering like what one might have done.

LW: I think that’s absolutely true. I remember I was at the church and I was actually doing an interview with a couple of outlets. I think one was The Guardian and the other one was Sojourners. I believe and Cornel West and me and these two reporters were having this conversation about white supremacy and memorialization and all of these things and it was, you know, pretty exciting. Um, and then someone rushed in and said the Klan is outside with fire stay here. And it was really just a staggering moment. Like what do you what do you mean? I [9:00] don’t understand, it was hard to process like what was happening and as we tried to wrap up the conversations and I think I had thought up until that point that the work that I did as, that I do as a scholar and cultural critic and professor was to tell the story was to make sure that the media represented the story in a powerful way and didn’t underestimate white supremacy that they didn’t make false equivalencies. That was what I thought primarily was what the work was about. And I had been you know thinking of course in other ways. I was there for the Klan rally in July. So, you know, but I think that was more like a spectacle, carnival the the Klan was kind of in this little tiny box in the court square and the police were surrounding them actually facing us. They had [10:00] their backs to the Klan and their guns and bodies and stuff facing the crowd but like, everybody was there, you know elementary school kids, high school kids, you know, they were, it was a lot of people who were there and we think about those moments of what you might consider a lapse after that event after the Klan rally I thought it was over. We had followed the Klan to this parking garage and then they the police had started to push into the crowd. Um, and they had not yet I think declared unlawful, but they were pushing and pushing and pushing and someone fell down and we had to kind of get them up and then they said and then somebody thought and then the Klan kind of drove away and I was like, okay, I think this is finished so me and Ben, my husband we leave and then we get a call like four minutes later that the state police have shot off tear gas to [11:00] canisters of tear gas into the crowd and I was like, I don’t understand how that went so sideways so fast and we turned right around and went back and when we got back and parked the car and got out there were still people with stuff streaming down their faces. You could still like smell this tart mist in the air. And so these moments of like, I don’t know it just. It was something like I had not experienced or expected to experience, you know, as a matter of being a person in that location, which should have been a good indication for the events of August 11 and 12. Um, but even as I knew that um, cognitively, I didn’t know it physically.

the role of a scholar or public intellectual during times of crisis

JP: Yeah to pick up on a thread of, you know, you mentioned that your role as a scholar, a critic. I mean, how do you what do you think of that one’s role? I [12:00]mean in light of events such as these a year on have you um meditated on that rule and how you fit within within the larger context?

LW: I mean, I think for me I think some people say, oh you’re an activist and I still don’t think of myself that way. I do organize with Black Lives Matter, I’m involved with um several other community groups, I seem to go to a lot of meetings and I go to city council a lot but I don’t necessarily see that as an activist as much as just someone who wants the world to be better for her children than it is right this minute. And we know that this kind of social change is not inevitable. That it is the product of labor and I see myself as putting in that labor on the front end so that my kids don’t have to do it later. And so maybe that’s just too pat. Um, and so people would obviously say you are an organizer therefore you are an activist or whatever, but I don’t [13:00] necessarily see it that way and I also do think a lot about narrative. I think about that a lot when I read the paper when I read about how the paper places things and frames things. Um, all of that is about how a story gets presented. Um, and that is part of the larger work of cultural criticism. Is to kind of understand the place and power of individuals within a larger context and I’m just doing my best to kind of, to take that seriously and whenever I can whenever I have an opportunity it to, amplify certain stories about Charlottesville I do them either by going to City Council meetings, by writing emails, by helping to advance or develop certain campaigns around issues. You know, that just seems an important part of making Charlottesville the place that [14:00] it already thinks.

JP: It is interesting that it seems like you’re avoiding the term activist, right? Or not, maybe not avoiding but like why like thinking about the tradition and of protest and how protest these days has been seen as something that’s like, you know, like I’m just doing that like things like like what’s the role? I mean, I think it’s interesting that like, you know, uh at this moment, you know, I think as scholars or as people who may be associated with the university, it’s like, oh, I’m not like this part of this group. I’m just like helping out or like I don’t know if that if that’s fair to say.

LW: I don’t know if my reluctance is that I find the term would be stigmatized. I’m not concerned about stigma I think for me maybe it’s because the word activist has a really high bar. Um, it’s someone who is dedicated like 100% of [15:00] their life to this particular cause and so for me, I don’t see activists as something that I would like to avoid or feel like no, no don’t say that about me. I think I see it the opposite way. And I feel like for me I realized I have although I’m an African-American woman, I have a lot of privilege. Um in the way that Charlottesville operates there’s a lot of things that I can do that a lot of other African-American women and men can’t do um, and so for me, it’s part of kind of recognizing that my privilege allows me to have a job where I get to write and to teach and to talk about things, right? Like that’s really a quite and so I’m not saying that no one who is a professor could be an activist. I mean that that seems nonsensical. Um, but I think one of the reasons that I might avoid it to describe myself, even though I might have been described that [16:00] way about other people, is because I think I have a really high bar. And maybe it’s a bar that nobody actually can meet.

DMcD: And that brings me to a question that only tangentially connected to, or maybe not tangentially, but as I listen to you and you say this is a high bar and you think about people who laid everything on the line. We study them, people who gave lives and limbs and absolutely, but I’m very interested in the ways in which well after let’s say choosing randomly the height of the Civil Rights Movement, many of those activists who gave it all began to talk about the need for respite. That this is a long-term struggle. This is a struggle the end of which nobody can anticipate so therefore everybody in it has to know when they need to pause. When they need to rest, when a [17:00] respite might be called for so that they can live to fight another day. So that the absence of a person at a particular rally may not necessarily say anything about the degree of their commitments, but that in all social struggle, effective outcomes have to be considered in relation to preservation, preserving yourself, preserving your communities, Long-winded more statement than question.

LW: No, I think I think I would agree with that. I think I would absolutely agree with that and that there is and that there’s a variety of roles that people play in order for movements and causes to advance successfully. That’s what people describe as diversity of tactics, um that there’s different ways, there’s different organizational strategies, there’s some people who are comfortable doing, you know, one form of organizing and one form of action, you [18:00] know, nonviolent direct action violent, direct action, mass arrests. Um, there’s people who provide support to those people who are willing to do those things there people there that that run media and help to document all these things. So and I think that it’s I think you’re absolutely right. It’s not it’s not worth it to me to kind of start passing out like, you know, ‘Woker than thou’ badges, you know or you know things that say, you know, well you’ve done this but you haven’t done that. I think that that’s such a dangerous and I think that a lot of movements have that problem and I think you know, although we idealize aspects of the Civil Rights Movement I think they had those same problems. Um, and so I think it’s worth that we can kind of benefit from that history. We can benefit from that lesson to say that we all want to get to the same place but we’re not going to do it in the exact same way all this all at [19:00] the exact same time that it’s just not it’s not practical.

the role of protest in the nation's history

JP: Um, because this project is about Jefferson, um thinking about the role of protest and the role of um of of taking action and that’s kind of where I was leading in the question about. I’m trying to avoid the term activist like why shouldn’t we talk about protest? Why should we have to qualify the fact that we’re out protesting things and so, um thinking about sort of this tradition of protests at our nation’s very foundations.

LW: Absolutely. I think that’s absolutely excellent. And I think it’s so interesting to me the way that people who are critical of movements like Black Lives Matter, for example, um want to claim somehow an inherent passivity and resignation to America. I mean if you peel back the thinnest layer of American history, you get a revolution. How do they think that happened? Um that did not [20:00] happen because people politely wrote to the king and said hey, you know, if you don’t mind we’d like to get our freedom right now that didn’t happen. Instead they rose up. Um, and they declared, they had a list of demands, they had a list of grievances. Um, and so I find it very interesting particularly since the way that people tend to read Jefferson like they read the Bible, right? Very selectively and self-servingly. Um, They they don’t kind of they don’t go as far as you know, of course, you know Article 14 [query] in Notes on the State of Virginia, but they’ll even get all the way to all the grievances in the Declaration of Independence and there are two that I really like and that have that found that if you read them in a really interesting, allegorical way, um is when, one in [21:00] particular one of my favorites, a great foundation for resistance that is paralleled to what we’re living through right now. So, one of the grievances that the colonists made against the king was the enforcement of taxes. And so Chris Hayes has a great book about this that’s called A Colony in a Nation. Um. In it. He says that you know, when we think about taxes today, we think about you know, you file your W-2 with the IRS and you have to file all these different paper works and then you send in your bill you get a refund. But before that was the case, the police, the Redcoats would be used as tax enforcers. They could come to your house, kick your door, take your stuff to get you to pay your taxes. And so one of the grievances that the colonists had was about that system, about basically being over-policed. And there’s a line in the [22:00] Declaration and it says

“he has sent swarms of officers among us to harass our people and eat out their substance.”

And for me if that doesn’t describe Ferguson, Missouri, if that doesn’t describe the life of under this hyper criminalized gaze of policing in the lives of black people not just the actual state, right? With the police shooting black people, pulling guns on black women at the beach or all of these things, but just regular things. Like going to a store and using the wrong coupon or too many coupons or a coupon that a white manager doesn’t recognize therefore I’m going to call the police for this $17.99 item, right? That seems to me, the same basis for revolution that helped to found this country. There are still people who have those grievances [23:00] today and they’re black people and so it becomes really important to kind of think about Jefferson and his paradoxes. Um, and to kind of fight this idea that people like to say when you want to critique Jefferson, you say oh, well, he was a man of his time and you know, he didn’t know any better and that is completely false because we know people also of his time critiqued him during his time and after his time, you know? it’s not like everyone thought that slavery or the foundations of liberty were going to be secure, you know, if slavery existed. This is something that Jefferson himself critiqued himself in his time. So this notion to somehow preserve Jefferson as a saint to kind of be engaged in this kind of retrospective hagiography, right? Is so, I’m not sure where it comes from. Um, [24:00] but it seems like there are elements of Jefferson, the revolutionary aspects that really do speak to the moment we have now.

DMcD: Very important point to make we don’t tend to think of Jefferson, we think of him as a revolutionary, but often in the abstract. But to point to that article just as you’ve done and to say that there is in that article strong and direct implication for what black people in cities like Ferguson are coming up with. The second article you mentioned as your favorite one. What’s the second one?

LW: I’m trying to remember it right now. I’m not sure if I can even remember it, but I know I love that one about: “He has sent swarms of officers among us to harass our people, eat out their substance.”

JP: Is there one about seizing property?


LW: Ts it the is the property one or is it?

JP: The one about um, immigrate, uh immigration?

LW: Yeah, but that one is my favorite. I’m sorry. I think I missed I think, I know I have two that I really like but the harassment one. The idea of like law enforcement harassment going all the way back to the founding of this nation and yet people can’t understand why this is a problem. I think it was in, it might have been the um, the one about the castle doctrine. The castle doctrine and this was that this was a doctrine that England had I think it is the one about unlawful search and seizure. Um, and so England had this doctrine called the castle doctrine and so even if a man’s home be as humble as a hobby or as elaborate as a castle, it doesn’t matter, you know, he has the right to bar anybody from entry. Um, and the the British violated that when they were coming [26:00] to seize the property that they believed that the king was owed and so they were resisting that as well.

Teaching Jefferson in UVA's new curriculum

DMcD: Switching subject slightly, as participant in the new curriculum, the engagement series, uh and teaching Jefferson within the context of that series, what do you most want to impart to your students? What do you think our students most need, uh to know about Jefferson, to release about Jefferson, to expand?

LW: I think that one of the things I try to impart to students is that all of this is their legacy and their inheritance. Not just the Jefferson that you know who has his house on the back of the nickel or at least he used to um, not just the Jefferson that the university idolizes and idealizes. But that the flaws of [27:00] the institution are also something that attracted them or resulted in a place that drew them here. And so when we started the semester last year, this was pretty soon after the events of August 11 and 12 and I talked about how two of the organizers for this event, um, Jason Kessler and Richard Spencer were alums of the University of Virginia just like you will be. And so you need to think about what does that mean for you? What does that mean for what you are, what you have chose to participate in and to advance and turning the question back to them. Um, you know, what, is it about the place that you feel needs, what kind of story does the University needs to tell about itself in order to be held accountable for that past as well as to be held accountable for missteps in the present? Um, and they took that very seriously and so they embarked on projects, [28:00] um that allowed them to look at the relationships between the university and the city. The entire curriculum studied the Rockfish Gap report, which was I think the 1818 citing of the university and why it ended up in this area as opposed to I believe Stanton was an option in Lexington might have been an option. They ended up, the Board of Governors at the time, ended up installing it here because this was where the most white people in the state lived. And so then we get to think about like, what does that mean that this place exists here as opposed to anywhere else in the state simply for the because of a geographic work that linked it to whiteness. And so these are some of the things that we talked about and in addition to looking at Ta-Nehisi Coates and talking about[29:00] Coates in the context of some of the articles, on the Notes on the State of Virginia. We talked about eugenics, um and biology we talked about lots of different things. It was a short course. These are seven week courses that meet twice a week. Um, and so they, there’s, you know this, we have to be really kind of focused and direct in what we did. But the topic of the course that I’m referring to now was called “Race, Racism, Colony and Nation” and in it we talked a lot about racism and where it comes from and the varieties of expressions. We talked about, you know, their own contributions in terms of what it means to them to make an intellectual contribution to this conversation. Um, what had they learned and how do they unlearn um, and so I think that if anything, I think this seems really kind of pat but it’s kind of for me a useful thing to [30:00] consider.

That just because you love something does it mean you can’t critique it at the same time and I think it becomes really important to ask difficult questions of, that love does not require compliance. Um, and that you can’t go into a place like this and expect not to have to deal with difficult things particularly at the time in which they were coming to school. They were coming as what was called the bicentennial class, but their orientation in some way had been on CNN when they got to see white supremacist marching through campus, um, and then the next day fights in the streets in the town that was soon to be theirs. Um, and so there are a lot of people who are interested in developing more relationships with the community and I really believe that UVA has not done a sufficient job despite some structural elements to do so of repairing this [31:00] town-gown divide, of thinking about how the policies of the university and it’s encroaching through the city has driven down wages, has made a housing crisis, has done all of these things. Um and yet turning its back in some way by making people who live here feel as if they are outsiders or dependents.

the University as a community in need of engagement and repair

DMcD: Very interesting point um, and we cannot have enough discussions about the town-gown relations, but I think if there’s one thing that that August 11th and 12th unearthed for me, is the importance of expanding our understanding of community because the University of Virginia is itself a community. And so how do we take many of your insights here and apply them to an analysis of this [32:00] community of students, of faculty, from various backgrounds demographics, uh, what needs to be repaired internally?

LW: Goodness, I don’t think this show is long enough for me to talk about all that needs to be repaired internally. Um, and I’ve only been here 18 years so I don’t even know where all the bodies are buried. Um, but it seems to me that I think accountability is the first step, you know, being accountable for things in the past and figuring out how to make actual, material healing and repairs of these things. I think institutions, the job of institution is to serve and protect the institution. That seems to be what it is. It doesn’t and that means that you’re not willing to be vulnerable, um being not willing to admit fault, or to admit wrong because that makes you culpable rather than accountable, [33:00] right? Open to lawsuits or whatever.

Um, but I do think that you know, there’s a lot of power relationships, a lot of things that some would see as window dressing that don’t have a lot of material effect. Um, there is also a lot of complicity both in how the university is telling parts of its story even as its till causing harm and people are being harmed. So one quick example recently The Daily Progress, this might have been three or four weeks ago, talked about the um admissions rate for new first-year students and they talked about how this was a great class of diversity that might have even been the headline and what we were supposed to gain from this was that see the events of August 11th and 12th they didn’t hurt us, you know, it was really all fine. But when you read the article and started to look at what they were saying counted as diversity, they were thinking about [34:00] socio-economic diversity. And in fact the numbers of black students who applied for early decision, which is an early indicator of people who, black folks who will come to UVA, that had gone down. And so they’re claiming diversity, but they don’t mean racial diversity or they don’t mean black people at least and this, and that black student admissions at least from when I was here when I started 18 years ago, there were far more black students than there are today. Um, and that’s something, how do we repair that? And again, this is nothing against the people who are doing difficult work at admissions and working with the college guides program and doing all of these things to kind of reach out, um, and to include more black students, but I think it requires more institutional will to hire black faculty, to attract and fund and retain black [35:00] students, to acknowledge at least the emotional labor that a lot of black faculty do, all of these things are material things that we could do but seem not to. So that’s just one example.

Jefferson's paradoxes: ideals and realities

DMcD: So, when I say Jefferson, whether in this context or in his writings, when I say Jefferson, give me five words that come to mind.

LW: And we talking about Thomas Jefferson not George Jefferson?

DMcD: Sorry, James. You told me I can’t laugh.

JP: No you can you can definitely laugh! I don’t run that tight of a ship here.

DMcD: I have a lot of external commentaries so James has me on a leash. Yes, George, not George Jefferson.

LW: Well that cuts down on all the positive things, or many of the positive things that I might say. Um, but I think, when I think about Jefferson, I think [36:00] about idealism. I think about the distance between practice and ideals. I think about the paradox at the heart of American democracy and the paradox at the heart of this university. Uh, I think about someone who wrote about liberty and justice and equality and believed in that, but only to a point. Um, someone who also believed in a certain form of scientific racism and eugenics. Um that this is someone who represented the best and the worst of what America could be. And now that we are trying to tell a fuller story and I know Monticello has been doing a lot of hard work in that for many years, now that we’re trying to tell a fuller story we can say these things. We can say these things. We can tell the whole truth and not just the part that makes Jefferson into this deity that we [37:00] can admit that there are fundamental flaws in the American experiment and these flaws are still having profound implications for how the rest of the world works and how in particular, justice works in the lives of black people in this city and in this university.

JP: To bring it sort of full circle to where we started, um shrouding the statue?

LW: So the shrouding of the statue was I thought a very powerful moment of students, um claiming a certain desire to tell a larger story about Jefferson. Now, this was not the first time the statue was shrouded. It was shrouded I think back in the 20s, um, after some election that the students didn’t like the outcome of and so they shrouded the statue in grief. What the shrouding of the [38:00]statue, even beyond what the students intentions might have been, was the fallout. The consequences. And you might recall there were two letters that President Sullivan released about the statute and the shrouding. The one that she released to alums kind of said that, used the word, actually used the word â€˜desecrate.’ Um, and so she, in speaking to alums, she was imagining that the people she was writing to, who were probably just the funders not alums of color, but to those who had funded the university, they consider Jefferson sacred and someone who should not be covered or somehow hidden in any way or questioned or challenged. The one she wrote to us to the university community was a bit more flexible and fluid about Jefferson as a slave holder, etc, etc, [39:00] etc. And now we have a new building that we named after a black woman and look what we have done. Um, and so again the instincts of an institution is to protect the institution and both letters did that but one of them did it at the expense of students and calling what they’™d done sacrilege as if somehow we are at a monastery and not an institution where we’re meant to ask difficult questions.

Anniversary Events for August 11 and 12, 2017

DMcD: So again speaking of where we are almost at an anniversary year weeks away and uh, we can see the preparation for, that’s been underway to again reassure another entering class and their anxious parents that all is well, uh inside the [40:00] Academical Village. So I was quite taken by the letter that Dean Risa Goluboff sent to the university, uh, summarizing and wrapping up the work of the Dean’s Commission. Uh, and that committee was appointed in the immediate aftermath as you know to formulate a variety of institutional responses to those events. So I was taken with the wording in that letter: “We have healed on an individual and a collective, uh at an individual and Collective level.” So had I, and I will try to carve out a space and see if she can give me a space to have her elaborate on that, how would you talk about our investments as an institution in that this too is a part of preserving an Institutional image. [41:00] This investment in healing and resolution and a declaration of resolution almost as if that say, reconciliation and healing can be conjured through verbal fiat.

LW: It really is quite disturbing and problematic to have the dean of an institution tell the rest of the institution that the community is all fine that we have healed on an individual and a collective level. I don’t think that anyone should presume to make that type of assessment and to whom is that being addressed? Who needs to be told in reassured that we’re all right? And who benefits from that? And so I think that once you answer that question, then you 42:00 it helps to give a better answer as to what the stakes are here. Um, and what and I find it very distressing that the that the notions of healing and resolution, um and forward-thinking have become co-opted really just to get most people to shut the hell up and um keep quiet so we can just go about as we were and it seems to me that um the events for example that the university is planning, there’s one on healing and restitution, not restitution, that’s absolutely not what they’re interested in. On healing and repair. Nope. Nope. Not repair not repair not repair.

DMcD: Its reconciliation. It’s a Law School conference.

LW: Not that one. There’s another one. There’s another one that is going to happen on I believe on August 11th, and they’re now collecting tickets by lottery. You might be able to win a lottery ticket where you can come and be reconciled and…

DMcD: And bring all your effects in a plastic bag and you cannot get through the [43:00] metal detectors without the plastic bag.

JP: Talk about search and seizure.

LW: That’s right. Those stadium procedures that we have to have now with these clear backpacks to make sure you’re reconciled. Well, this is interesting because downtown um for the same weekend, there’s a whole list of prohibited items that you are not allowed to bring. Police will be scanning to kind of take away things that look like weapons, but you’re fine with a gun. You can bring a gun but you can’t bring you know a can of hairspray or something like that, but I digress.

DMcD: We need to get at that.

LW: Wait first I have to talk about I have to talk about this University event that is coming up. And again this seems to me another example of how one might, I don’t know. I’m not sure exactly what is the goal of this event. I think it’s [44:00] hard to say is this public relations? It’s a community relations? Is it like what the overall objective is, but it does seem to me to be about you know, um, about basically holding a space in some ways for the mishaps of the past, but I don’t see how. The one thing about universities that it’s really big and while one hand is trying to reconcile, the other hand is undoing and so you asked about like what lessons in resistance and activism we might see within our own community. I have been really taken and observing this hiring of the Trump administrator at the Miller Center. And the Miller Center scholars are pretty upset about this. There was no there was no transparency, there was no general process. And the Miller Center is a bipartisan center where left and right and [45:00] Democrats and conservatives all get together all the time. So it’s not like they don’t want to hear from the other side. It’s that person represents as Nicole hemmer said who’s a professor at the Miller Center not the difference between Democrat and Republican or between conservative and liberal but between liberal and illiberalism. And that this is not, we don’t have to kind of hire this person to teach this concept when you could have it she said I don’t object to him coming to here and give a speech but to hire him and to give him a public Ivy parachute is the danger. And so to do this one year after Trump said there are many good many fine people on both sides in this person supports that policy and support child separations at the border and all of these things, [46:00] these are not intellectual exercises. These are acts of white supremacy that don’t border on fascism but are fascist lite, you know? To have the university kind of be doing both at the same time, seems like, I’m not sure if they’re playing both sides against the middle, um, I’m not sure if they’re hedging? And I believe that this community does need healing and repair. But it also needs honesty and vulnerability for that to happen. And that there a lot of people here that are still wounded and hurting and the institution has yet to do more than say we have healed and we’re okay.

Healing and Civility

DM: Indeed. I don’t know. In fact, I doubt that it will make its way into a formal finished podcast, but I feel the need to say that it is evident to my eyes and it is evident to my sensibilities that you are still very injured from [47:00] this event. It is quite evident. I’ve known you for 19 years. This has deeply affected you. Um, and I think seeing you, hearing you, looking into your eyes, it is evident to me that you as but one person are an example of the dangers if not, the irresponsibilities of suggesting that time has passed, we’ve moved on, nothing to see here, uh because it is evident to me that you are still living with the effects of that uh weekend.

LW: Absolutely, absolutely. And I think the community is as well. And I think that what we see at the university level is also paralleled at the level of the city. And so there’s a lot of conversation about civility these days in [48:00] Charlottesville. Let’s make Charlottesville civil again. Um, or there’s a wonderful story in the New York Times and part of it included a comment from a downtown business owner who said, you know, I’ve been in this community for 28 years and I’ve never heard anyone complain about these statues until those outside agitators came in. And I thought have I time travelled to like 1961? Like really? And it’s like well, of course when you only talk to other business owners and you don’t know any black people, it makes perfect sense that this would be, this would seem like a completely irregular experience to you. Um, but these are the types of folks who are calling for politeness and civility and I really have been urging people to be careful about not allowing fascists to harness our civic virtues and these institutions. So, in the same way that [49:00] they’ve harnessed the courts and the you know, you have someone like Kessler suing an activist for yelling at him in public and winning five dollars. Um, just like, you know the same people that beat up DeAndre Harris in the parking garage, pressed charges against him for assault. Like these are dangerous things and dangerous people, but they are using the courts, they are using notions of that we value like civility and politeness to kind of you know normalize white supremacy and that is something that I think that everyone should be alarmed about.

DM: Everyone. I was talking to somebody the other day because uh back to Jefferson, Jefferson could not be more civil in Notes on the State of Virginia. That even in those queries where he’s making the most outlandish claims that are [50:00] racist and racialist, uh, he’s calm, his prose conforms to what most people would consider impersonality, detachment, objectivity. Uh, there is civility a plenty on the surface, uh, but the idea or the demand for civility is, I would agree with you, is coextensive at this moment with demand and albeit unspoken to let us do what we want to do, uh without your complaining and again, this won’t be anything that could make its way into an interview, but the one time Al Sharpton ran for president and people were interviewing him. “Well Reverend Sharpton. Why are you so angry? Why are you constantly protesting?” And he says, well, I’ll tell you what, if you’re pouring piss on my head, I’m not [51:00] gonna call it rain. And so we are expected to call things rain and that you know, someone is beating you uh, and then you’re supposed to say kick me, beat me, make me write bad checks. It is this idea that the demand for civility is coextensive with some of the most repressive oppressive and violent actionsbeing taken at the same time. And so civility is one of these terms that has to be considered not in the abstract. It has to be considered in relation in historical time. Audience, speaker, who’s calling for civility?

UVA and Monticello hide the violence of slavery in favor of beauty

LW: And if you think about this too and relevant for us in talking about Jefferson for me is the notion of southern hospitality. Where do people think southern hospitality came from? This is not just sweet tea and Jesus we were talking about that is not Southern Hospitality. Southern Hospitality, this idea [52:00] that the South where the you know, the cotton is high in the living is easy. All of that is manufactured through forced labor and there is no place better to see that than at Monticello. And so you have this, you know this beautiful room in the home where they have that dumbwaiter and you know, it was really a marvel atthe time so say the docents and you know, Jefferson will be entertaining and then he would open this door and then food would come out of this closet and he would put in the dirty dishes would go down and then you would close it and basically it’s a dumb waiter and the the food is being transported through the floor into the basement where there is a kitchen that must be at all times more than 110 degrees with the fires and all of those things that are running but it hides the means of its production and just like Jefferson and Monticello and [53:00] UVA, hide their slavery in favor of beauty. And so it’s just like what Morrison was saying in Beloved right when Sethe looks at Sweet Some, she says it’s beautiful, but there was not a leaf or a blade a blade of grass on that place that did not make her want to scream and it made her wonder if Hell was a pretty place too. And so if you look at Monticello, you look at UVA you see how beautiful it is a lot of that is structured by slavery and it was, and he was, Jefferson was a great host. And so this notion of hospitality, civility, all of these things cloak and conceal white supremacy in its basest forms and today I believe the calls for civility and politeness to not raise your voice, to not protest, to not complain, is an extension of that.

Sally Hemings exhibit at Monticello and question of terminology: is 'rape' an appropriate term?

DM: Very much so. Um the exhibition that’s up now at Monticello is, we can’t [54:00] wait to see it and we’re going to take our student interns to see it, and it’s focused on Sally Hemings. But yeah, so you didn’t know about it?

LW: I heard of it, but I’ve not seen it myself. I’ve not been to see it.

DM: We are going and it’s what I’m calling, without having seen it, a non exhibition exhibition in that there is very little in the material form that can be a part of the exhibition. I mean, even we don’t have um, an absolutely definitive image of uh, Hemings and so a shadow has to be projected on the wall. To stand in the place where something else might stand. So um, when one of the curators talked about the exhibition to the New York Times, she used the term rape. That we should now finally talk about rape at Monticello. And so um, I [55:00] wanted to ask as many people as we can. What do you think about that terminology even given all of the ways in which we can de-idealize Jefferson and should uh, what about the analytical terminology? What terms are appropriate to summon when talking about Jefferson? Is rape useful?

LW: I think that I think the word is absolutely useful. I mean, what other word would you use to have sex with someone who cannot consent to have sex with you? This was Jefferson having sex with a teenager that he owned in body and in spirit. This is someone who he owned this person and any shadow she might cast and so to me, even though I believe that there are folks who, people do this a lot less, of course than they used to want to romanticize this as some forbidden [56:00] love or whatever. Um, there’s, it seems significant me that he never freed her. Um, and that there was something about her captivity that was essential to the relationship. And so I don’t know if you call it compromised consent? I don’t know how it’s even possible to to make that determination. But when someone cannot consent, it’s like having sex with someone who is asleep. Is that rape? I’d say so. You know this person, you know her yes, or her know didn’t really matter. And if he wanted it all to work out and be a relationship, then he could have freed her and then courted her and married her and then you know, he was a former president and rich. He could do whatever he wanted. This was someone who helped to free the nation. Surely he could free one teenager.


JP: What if an interesting about that is that I guess, it’s sort of an, you’re using that as sort of an analogy. So like what do we have in our contemporary lexicon that can be equivalent to or comparable to that idea of what was happening at that time. So using using the force of the concept of rape perhaps not the legal sense of what constitutes rate but in terms of an analogy of what that um, situation might have been like if that’s fair to say.

LW: Yeah. I know maybe the word rape is, it conjures in the minds of some people what maybe the word activist conjures for me? Not that these are both, you know one is terrible and one is not terrible, but that these are terms that are highly charged and very fraught and very weighted. For some people, you can’t be raped by someone. For some people you can’t be raped by someone you’re married to. For some people you can’t be raped if you’re a sex worker. For some people [58:00] you can’t be raped if you’ve had sex with this person before. For some people you can’t be raped unless you conceive. I mean like this all of these like rules that people want to put on um rape that make it as narrow as possible. It’s almost like asking the average white person what is racism? There are no racists to be found anywhere in America apparently except for the KKK, you know, you have to have Insignia and a pointed white hood to be a racist these days. Um, but it seems to me that and I appreciate the kind of challenge of vocabulary, but for me, the system of slavery itself was so corrosive and deeply corrupt that any possibilities I would say of mutually, constitutive, sexual relationships are kind of hard to create in that kind of environment. Like I [59:00] think that we have a difficult time kind of imagining that working at all. Um, maybe one example might be I think the Joan Little case from the 1970s. This was a woman who was raped by a prison guard, you know, um, so like could she even have consented in this case? This person had, she was a kid. She was a teenager. She was a kid. This person had power over her, um, like. I don’t know. It’s just it just seems like the system the structure of the society, the structure of the relationship, was already so tainted and corrupt that how can you have sex with a person you own, a person who has no means or power or volition that’s legally recognizable to their yes, or to their no. And so for me rape does work even if you want to think about rape as you know, I don’t know. It just seems, It’s [60:00] compromised. It’s incredibly compromised.

Keywords for Jefferson

JP: That’s wonderful and I’m thinking to back to your to your class how you gave an assignment to create a dictionary.

LW: A glossary.

JP: Yeah, can you just talk a bit about that just really briefly because I’m just saying in a sort of or sort of sidebar way that we may adapt that.

LW: Everyone’s copying my idea. There’s a lot of people in the college fellows program I’m not going to name names because I’m friends with some of these people but they have copied a lot of my ideas and one of them was to have the students do a glossary and so we went through the course for seven weeks.Each week we had a theme and each theme had a reading and two keywords attached to them and for the keywords they had to write definitions of those keywords and see how they appeared in the reading and how they applied to the context of the class so that I gave them all these little bound stitched notebooks and they [61:00] would um, you know, fill them out throughout the semester. I mean, it was reallyuseful. So like one week we had them. Um, I had them look at the trailer to I Am Not Your Negro. We read what to the slave was the Fourth of July and I think we might have watched the Kendrick Lamar video and the two words for that week were independence and freedom. Um, and so they had to think about those two words. I had them look up we spent a good amount of time looking at the word “cuck.” Um, and which which is um, or it started from cuck-servative. This is an alt-right term to describe um, basically traitors to the white race, you know, usually from back in the day and the you know, 16th, 15th, 17th centuries, a cuck was basically a bird that laid its eggs in another bird’s nest and it meant later on [62:00] when a man was cheated on by his wife.

DM: So that’s where cuckolding comes from.

LW: That’s where cuckolding comes from. And a cuck now is used within the alt-right and white supremacist movement to talk about basically white people who are traitors to the white race. Um, I had them look up Black Lives Matter and talk about that. So there was a lot of different things that that they did every week and it was that was a really fruitful project. We did eugenics. It was a ton of great terms that students looked up and thought about and came prepared to discuss in class.

JP: What would be your what would be your keyword for Jefferson?

LW: Oh that is that was sneaky question, James. Um the keyword for Jefferson. Well, they did get two and so I’m gonna hedge. Yeah, they got two words. Um, I [63:00] think I might just say liberalism and illiberalism. Like what does it mean to put freedom and bondage at the same time in one person. Someone who espoused the ideas of freedom for some based in the bondage of others.


Niya Bates

Transcript (text only)

Interviewee: Niya Bates, Public Historian of African-American Life and Culture at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello

Interviewer(s): Deborah E. McDowell; James Perla

Interview date: 2018-07-29

Interview Summary: Interview with Niya Bates, Public Historian of African-American Life and Culture at Monticello. The interview took place at Monticello. In it, Bates discussed an exhibit on Sally Hemings, the physical environment of Monticello, Jefferson and Hemings’ relationship, Hemings family history, and the role of institutions today.

Keywords: Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings, Monticello, built environment, slavery, African American History

Transcription: Hahna Cho


James Perla: Do you want to maybe describe where we are right now and the purpose for our visit here to Monticello.

Deborah McDowell: We are in the splendid landscape of Monticello having taken the path through beautiful gardens listening to the birds awaiting Niya Bates’s arrival to talk about, among other things, the current exhibition of Sally Hemings, the Getting Word Project and various and sundry other activities of Monticello. Niya Bates I think I see approaching us here, is an expert on all things slavery and particularly on Sally Hemings and whatever relationship she had with Thomas Jefferson.


JP: Wonderful. Yeah. We’re kind of sitting out in front. Uh, really just parallel. To um, I guess the back of the home. Yeah, back of the Jefferson’s home. Had some nice classical architecture, those columns. It’s really just very symmetrical.

DMcD: And the order of the environment even with all of the curvature, the house is very rectilinear. Everything is rectilinear. But surrounding it is all of these wonderful rolling serpentine designs replicated on the grounds of the University.

JP: Yeah. Hi. Yeah to meet you. Thanks for coming out.

(Overlapping introductions)


Thank you now. So you’re in capable hands and you’re incapable hands. So I’m gonna vacate the premises. Give my best to Carmenita. I will thank you.

JP: And I hope you don’t mind we moved things around just slightly to get two seats here.

Niya Bates: No, that’s fine. You’d be surprised. These benches go all over the mountain path. Oh yeah, I mean people picnic out here.

DMcD: Oh, is that allowed?

NB: You know… “Allowed.”

JP: I was gonna say I’m like I’m using my white privilege for good here to like rearrange the things but I guess that people do that anyways.

NB: Yeah, I mean that says a lot about our average visitor.

Different levels of engagement at Monticello

DMcD: Haha, touche. Touche. What’s it like then if that’s your average visitor?

NB: Um, you know, sometimes it’s pushing a rock uphill especially when you’re [3:00] having more complicated discussions about race and identity and colorism and rape and consent, uh, it can be very difficult sometimes for people who are not necessarily open or primed for those conversations, uh even more so when we have guides who are very excellent interpreters, they’re good at telling stories but not everyone has the same level of comfort with these topics. So I mean you can get wide-ranging conversations from very complex theoretical, you know professor-like conversations about these issues and then you can also have people who are just coming to it for the first time and or maybe resistant.

JP: And you have to plan around that those different levels of engagement.

NB: We do have to plan around those different levels of engagement. So that’s the challenge of seeing almost half a million visitors a year.

JP:Wow. That’s yeah. Yeah, that’s amazing.

NB:Right? I mean you’re here on peak season and I’m sure our listeners can’t see [4:00] what’s going on. But you can and there are a lot of people here today and we’re running towards every five minutes and it’s that’s what a peak day looks like at Monticello.

JP: Wonderful. Yeah. Well, would you like to just describe the scene a little bit? Um, Although our listeners can’t see that you know, it’s uh, I’m sure they’ll be able to maybe picture certain elements. What are we looking at? Where are we? How are you feeling?

DMcD: Sure. We’€™re basically in Jefferson’s backyard. We’re at the West Lawn at Monticello sitting at the very back of the garden. You can see near us some serpentine flower beds, to our left is one of the oldest trees on the mountain top. actually on the other side of the green tree that you’re all looking at is maybe one tree that we think to Cedar we think it was here when Jefferson and the enslaved Community were here. Uh, just down the hill to our right€

JP: Is it just that tree right there to the left?

NB: Yeah. It’s just behind that tree. We could actually see it from a different angle, but there is a cedar tucked in between that growth and just all the way [5:00] to our right down the hill is Mulberry Row, which is the plantation Main Street of Monticello. There are a few reconstructed buildings there and then of course, uh, you’re looking at the terraces left and right up the house. Uh, so to the left of the house is the South Terrace and under that would have been the carriage bays and to the right of the house is the North Terrace. I’m sorry, is the South Terrance and under the South Terrace would have been The Life of SallyHemings exhibit, Getting Word, and the Granger Hemings kitchen some of these spaces we’€™re interpreting.

JP: Wonderful. Um, yeah. So, uh, I’m glad that we’re just jumping right into it here, um a few just like comments for I guess, um, uh sort of this interview. I’ve noticed since I’ve been sitting here that there might be some planes that are going by from time to time if there is a very obvious plane going overhead.I might just kind of put my hand up and ask you to sort of pause. But yeah apart from that like we said in our email just kind of a free-flowing conversation. We have a few prepared questions that will follow up with from that initial email [6:00] that we sent you. Um, and yeah from there I’m just hoping that we can have kind of a free-flowing conversation. And so um, I guess just to start if you might just um, say your name and title and what you do here just just that we have it on.

NB: Sure. My name is Niya Bates and I’m Public Historian of Slavery and African-American life at Monticello. I am also Director of the Getting Word African-American Oral History Project.

JP: Thanks. Um and so you were a UVA graduate correct? At the Carter G. Woodson Institute.

NB: That’s right. Yeah. I’m a “€˜double Hoo.”€™ I have a bachelor’s in African and African American Studies and a graduate degree in Architectural History and Historic Preservation.

JP: Excellent. Um, you’ve been in these parts for quite some time. Has your thoughts about Jefferson changed over time.

NB: Oh, certainly. I mean sure I was a student at the University but I also grew up in Charlottesville. This is my hometown and I don’t remember a single school year where I didn’t come up to Monticello on a field trip and some of my [7:00] earliest memories, probably when I was about nine or ten on a field trip, were asking a guide who Sally Hemings is and the response was “€œOh, we don’t talk about her.” Um, so that was kind of my first impression of Monticello and that’s been like 20 years, of course, but um, uh, Monticello has changed a lot since then and I think um, the more that I study Jefferson the more I get to know some of the intricacies of life here at Monticello for the enslaved community, the more complicated my opinions of him become.

DMcD: And would you say something about what the nature of some of those complications are say, if you had to say whatever the three top ways in which your understanding of Jefferson have been complicated since your arrival.

Jefferson's contradictions and writing on race in Notes on the State of Virginia

NB: Certainly. So my graduate degree is in African — I mean, sorry my graduate degrees in architectural history. And of course Jefferson was a brilliant architect and a great designer and he contributed so much to our kind of iconic [8:00] American architecture – bricks columns neo-colonial or neo-classicist architecture. Um, brought this Italianate Renaissance style to Virginia and to an early America and that’s something that I really applaud. He’s a great designer. But some of the things that are really flawed about his life are the ways that he writes about interacting with people of African descent. He writes in his only book, Notes on the State of Virginia, about racial hierarchy. He writes about sort of pseudo-scientific racist beliefs that black people are inferior. That they are not capable of love, not capable of emotion, not capable of being a writer like Phyllis Wheatley. I mean that’s one of the people he discredited. Uh, and you look at his life and everything he did is provided by black people.I mean someone is dressing him, Someone is stoking the fires in his room, Someone is likely passing and paper, all of his meals are prepared by black enslaved people and all of his wealth is tied to the institution of [9:00] slavery. So that makes it very complex to understand him. You want to wait till they… 

JP: Probably wait till the tour passes, but I do I do have a question Since you mentioned about Jeffersonian architecture that I’d like you to uh expand a bit since since we’re here, um in this sort of like whatever he called the Lawn, you know, the um, case study in architecture. I forget the exact language that UVA’s Lawn um, but yeah, maybe we’ll just be patient here [10:00] as the tour passes and we maybe we can have some idle chatter too.

DM: Yeah, and maybe I don’t well, you can’t can’t pick her up. But I was gonna say if we could turn the mic and case.

JP: We could yeah, we can maybe see what we can do.

NB: sure and some context on the tour where overhearing, this is a garden tour. So it starts just there by the fish pond to the right side of the house. Um, and so you’re going to get a lot of history about the plants about Wormely Hughes, the enslaved gardener who really sort of led the work with the gardens. You’ll [10:00] also get a little bit about Jefferson’s beliefs about plants, trying out different types of things.

JP: He liked to experiment.

NB: He did uh, some of the memoirs from the enslaved community say that he liked to tinker in the garden himself, but we always have to remind people that majority of work is done by enslaved people.

JP: Yeah, I think tinker is a keyword. I don’t know I feel like that’s come up a lot like you. He’s always tinkering, right?

NB: Always tinkering, uh, some people think of him as an inventor. I would call him someone who just experimented with a lot of different things, an early adapter I would say of new technology.

JP: A DIY, maybe?

NB: A DIY, maybe. That’s a good way…

JP: Um, you have some interesting thoughts about Jefferson and plants. Oh man.

DMcD: Well, I just have to go back through the the notes. I’ve taught it lots times and haven’t thought it through completely but uh, I have I should go back to my earlier lecture notes where when Jefferson is talking about plants and 11:00nature and botanical matters. When he’s talking about hybridizing, for example, the language of the text just become so much more excitable and in many cases, it’s my students would think it was just the imaginings of a mad middle-aged school teacher, but I would say that the language became even slightly eroticized at those moments when he is talking about hybridizing. It’s in the botanical world, but it’s clearly extrapolable or can be generalized to at least think about other things.

JP: So, in his language, in the, in the prose, it almost gets and hybridizing? So, this is like when you join plants together, sort of tinkering in the garden.

DMcD: Yeah. It’s it’s um at those moments where he’s talking about hybridity in [12:00] the Botanical world. Again, this is all interpretive. This is when people sometimes off at literary Scholars because it’s not anything you can prove. This is all interpretation.

JP: But it has some insights into perhaps his… Yeah. His worldview and experiences?

DM: Yes. Because they’re always ways when people are writing where language exceeds our own grasp. Language, exceeds our intentions. We know what we want to say, right? We know how we want to say it even but somehow there is an inevitable slip between what we want and imagine and what actually appears.

NB: Right, and for him he’s also thinking about his legacy. So it’s more about how people remember it or how people perceive his language. I mean….

JP: Yeah, and he said she mentioned such a measured writer. So for those moments where it’s almost like there’s less, um, the stakes are a little bit less high? [13:00] You know, there’s not as much stakes in talking about plants and grafting like, you know, um botanical things together and so maybe that’s a little part of it where those, that is the slippage? Maybe? I don’t know.

DMcD: Well, that’s that’s the only thing I’m suggesting it’s not anything I would labor over but as we think about Jefferson in all of the ways he’s actually trying to conceal so much about the beastly inhuman, uh monstrosity That was slavery. I mean that the lens to which he’s going all the time not just in his writing, in the architecture to conceal the workings of this design and these experiments that uh, whatever one has to work so hard to contain, is gonna erupt. I don’t hesitate to incorporate Freud here and I don’t worship at his Shrine, but he got some things right. The repressed will return.


Monticello's design and hiding the labor of enslaved peoples

JP: that’s for sure and on that topic, um, not Freud but of concealing. I wanted to pick up on a conversation you were kind of alluding to just a moment ago about Jefferson’s architecture, you know his contributions and in the classical sense, um, but also the way that he hides labor, he hides the means of production and you know in terms of being a lesson in architecture, um, Monticello more than other places. I mean we’€™re sitting on the top of the mountain and I don’t see much. I wonder if you could maybe meditate on that a bit and then also talk about the place We are now in kind of what we can see and what we can’t see

NB: sure. So we’re sitting on the west line and you cannot see Mulberry Row from here. Um, and I think for a lot of people under first examination, it would seem that perhaps Jefferson is trying to hide the labor of enslaved people but the reality of 18th and 19th century living is that you can’t hide the labor of15:00enslaved people. They’re doing everything. they are everywhere on the mountain top. They’re in the house, They are on Mulberry Row, They’re out in the fields and mind you, This is a large Plantation. Monticello sits at the center of a 5,000 acre Plantation at any given time There are 120 to 140 enslaved people here. It is a large Plantation and the activity of the enslaved community is everywhere. Uh, so in the architecture, I would say Jefferson is not necessarily hiding but minimizing the presence of enslaved people through techniques like, uh locating the service activities things like the kitchen, the laundry, the deli. I mean, the deli, haha. The dairy, uh, the kitchen the laundry the dairy is putting those in the wings that are underground here. So what you see here are just the tops of these Terraces, but there are work spaces below those railings that are built into the side of the mountain top and there are passageways from those South wings that lead to the house. So as an enslaved person say you are James Hemings or Edith Fossett and you’ve prepared a meal in 16:00the kitchen. Uh, you can take that through that Subterranean service passage under the house and up into the dining room. And in the dining room, there’s a dumbwaiter so you can set that food on the dumbwaiter and leave. it minimizes the amount of enslaved people that have to be serving a meal and I would say that’s really the core of Jefferson’s architectural design. He uses the same techniques at the University of Virginia. If you look at The Pavilions on the Lawn, they’re the center of his academical village and as much as he wanted to minimize students bringing their own enslaved people Uh, I think there was some awareness that professors and students would do that Anyway. so you have the spaces Under The Pavilions that became workspaces and that shift to either allow more functionality or to allow more light. The designs are very thoughtful in that respect to how they organize work. So here at Monticello, Uh, there’s a Great big spatialized landscape of Labor. so you have the house where you have [17:00] more domestic workers, people who are taking care of the china, people who are cleaning the house. Priscilla Hemings who would have been the nursemaid who would have been working in the nursery on the third floor. and then you have your spaces that I just described that are out in the wings underground and then the next level is Mulberry Row. and Mulberry Row is really the industrial Hub. That’s where things are converted from the raw materials collected out in the field Into objects. So that’s where your carpenter shop, your joinery, the tinsmith, the metalSmith, those kind of things are taking place and then at distance you have the quarter farms and that’s really where the agricultural production is taking place. So there is a really specialized hierarchy of labor.

JP: Um, just a quick follow-up. I mean, so you’re suggesting and I might have just misunderstood a little bit but you’re suggesting that you know, the function of the dumbwaiters in these underground passages were more about Efficiency or is there an element too of Jefferson not wanting to see or be seen [18:00] particularly when he’s entertaining guests of them not wanting to see the enslaved Workforce or is that kind of a misnomer?

Thomas Jefferson's relationship with Sally Hemings is contentious as early as 1802.

NB: I’m suggesting both. Uh, there’s a lot of efficiency happening here. There’s a lot of mechanization of work, uh, which is perhaps a different, is different than a lot of plantations actually. when you look at most plantations where we’re sitting with probably be where the outbuildings are. And instead this is a garden. This is a reflective space at the private space for the family and the work is not visible here. It is located down on Mulberry row. Uh, so what Jefferson is doing is basically turning this into a big machine. but the second part of that is that when he’s entertaining because he is very cognizant of the fact that people are visiting. I think it’s granddaughters write in their diaries that people used to just drive up to Monticello, press their face against glass and hope to be invited in. so there were lots of times that People would just be up here and there’d be large dinner parties. And for those events He is minimizing the presence of enslaved people, especially when it becomes [19:00] kind of contentious and what I’m speaking of is like early 1800s when he’s running for political office people start noticing that there are a lot of lighter-skinned enslaved people here at Monticello and that uh, they are describing those people to look like Thomas Jefferson, right? So it serves him to keep fewer people around that dinner table if you go inside.

JP: Wow, can you just I mean like what?

NB: Yeah, you know so Thomas Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemings is contentious as early as 1802. James Callender smears him basically in a newspaper and he says, you know, he has children with, as Callender described her “€œBlack Sal” or uh, “€œDusky Sally”€ and uh, the kids look just like Thomas Jefferson and of course, they’re using that against him as a political tool, but they’re also calling out a relationship with an enslaved woman.

JP: Which at the time was common so who needs DNA evidence? Right?

NB: Well, I think the DNA evidence really gave Credence to the oral history of 20:00these families. I mean these enslaved families never forgot their oral history and They Carried that through 200 years. Um, but I think what was overlooked because they were African-Americans, because they had been enslaved historians were not taking their oral histories Seriously. and one of the arguments that uh, Sally Hemings scholar, Annette gordon-reed, makes is that for all this time They intentionally overlooked the narratives of the enslaved Community because there were lots of stereotypes and misconceptions about African-American intelligence about the reliability of the information from their oral history. So, uh, the DNA really backed that up, but honestly, uh these families never doubted Their connection to Thomas Jefferson.

DNA evidence

DMcD: It’s so interesting to think about the DNA. This is gonna be a pretty long Preamble. So bear with me, uh, it’s interesting to think about the DNA because when it is convenient for people who worship at The Shrine of science to say, well, we don’t trust oral history because we can’t prove it, that we need the [21:00] unimpeachable evidence that science provides. now I was at uh, Kenwood the afternoon the announcement was made That um by dr. Foster. now, dr. Foster was this retired pathologist this avuncular man, and he made the very modest statement that if the man reported to be Thomas Jefferson’s father was in fact his father, then we can ascertain, the DNA can ascertain for us that Jefferson fathered at least one of Sally Hemings’s children. So this was a completely modest proposition. Now there were people that afternoon prepared to introduce into the conversation the speculation Well that perhaps Thomas Jefferson’s father was not his father. that’€™s so unimaginable, Was it, that that science had now verified this for us? All right. So there’s this there is that [22:00] that when it is convenient, To incorporate science into the conversation Let’s have science but when science gives you what you think you must have, then science can be suddenly questioned or at least we can demure a bit. If not reject science We can say well maybe the man reported to be Daddy was not his daddy as black people say mama’s baby Papa’s maybe I guess I don’t really want to know.

NB: Right well and then look at the other theories that have Arisen since the DNA testing, uh, most of the people who continue to deny Jefferson’s paternity of Sally Hemings’s€™ children like to offer Alternatives. Well clearly it was his brother. clearly because now it has to be another male Jefferson. And at first it was oh it was the Carr nephews when the DNA said no, there’s no possibility then it’s like, oh we have to find somebody else who who it could be [23:00] and people are jumping through Hoops to find other theories, but basically if you compare the DNA, the oral history, all of the evidence of who was here at Monticello and who was not nine months before all of Sally Hemings’s children. It could not have been anyone but Thomas Jefferson.

JP: Yeah. Um, yeah, that’s incredible. So, uh, I have a brief follow-up because we’re here And you know here some car sounds you hear some other sounds and um just a brief way of closing the loop on the architectural conversation. Um sound uh, that was one thing that you know, because we always talk about sight lines, but what might Jefferson and the people visiting Monticello hear on an average day? I mean, uh, you’re up in an elevated space, could they hear, um Row? the activity?

NB: Oh absolutely. 18th century living was notoriously disgusting. Like there was nothing Pleasant about being in eighteenth-century, Virginia and you’re at 24:00the top of a mountain, Jefferson and his family and the enslaved Community always struggled with water issues here. So you would have heard lots of carts probably from people going down to the Rivanna river and bringing water back up. Uh, you would have heard chopping wood. Uh, we’re not too far from where the coal sheds are. They would have been just down the hill behind us. So you would have heard that. you would have smelled smoke. you would have they would have been animals here, Lots of chickens on Mulberry Row. Uh, so you would have heard some clucking um, and you would have heard work, honestly. I mean, uh, you heard activities from the kitchen. Um, I’m not good at describing these kind of Sonic presences here, but it would have been a very noisy Place.

JP: Yeah. So the claim that in some ways Jefferson was trying to hide labor, it’s like how much can you really hide?

NB: Right? How much can you really hide? The truth is not much, uh the house that you see now is extremely curated but it never would have been this clean. It never would have been this pretty. there was certainly a lot going on here.


Complicating Hemings and Jefferson: rape, agency, and consent

DMcD: back to the question of Sally Hemings Jefferson, the children, rape, trying to segue into the exhibition, uh, and perhaps by way of Annette gordon-reed. Uh, obviously she’s done the world a great service since she did these On Jefferson and Hemings and she’s inclined to claim for that relationship, a dimension that other historians and lay people are not. in other words, She seems not to want to say categorically nothing could have obtained between Jefferson and Hemings Uh, that was anything but Reducible to rape to exploitation, uh, brutality Etc. She seems not to want to go that far. She seems to want more inclined to want to 26:00say something could have passed between these people despite what we know about consent and such. where… talk to us a little bit about that.

NB: Sure. Yeah, in Annette’€™s work, she puts out the possibility that it could have been a romantic relationship and I think that uh, her approach there is that if we just call it rape, then we remove any possibility that Sally Hemings had any agency in the relationship. Uh, we can all imagine even in contemporary America, situations where a relationship may have been consensual and then wasn’t or started as rape and then became Consensual. so there’s a spectrum of where this relationship could have fallen, but I think the things that are critical to point out about the relationship, the sexual relationship at least, between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings is that there is a gross power imbalance. Uh, he is 30 years her senior, He’s her owner, She does not [27:00] have the ability or the power to say no in this situation. Um, she is Second generation biracial so that means her mother had children by a white man and her grandmother did the same. Uh, so there are lots of things that are at play. Uh, this could have been something or a strategy for her to achieve more privilege for her children, right? Uh, we know from her son Madison that in negotiating with Thomas Jefferson, she negotiated extraordinary privilege for herself and freedom for their four children who survived. so they have six children together; two die as infants And four live to be adult and they’re all freed. They are the only nuclear family at Monticello for that to happen. Uh, so we can’t rule out the possibility that Sally Hemings, even at the young age of 16, had the foresight to negotiate some power in the situation for herself, which is I think why we have to give it, uh space to not just be rape and to not just be [28:00] consent perhaps there’s more there.

JP: Yeah, um just a brief clarifying questions In about the um freeing uh, Jefferson and Sally Hemings’ um children. Um, we spoke with Maya Bay a few weeks ago the historian and um, she suggested that um, and it’s been quite some years but since she’s done this research, so it was, you know, very tentative at best, but she suggested that you know, Jefferson didn’t free them until they turned 21 And so, um making the the implication that like maybe they had earned their value quote-unquote in that system. And so just to complicate maybe the benevolence of freeing Sally Hemings’™ children? I wonder if you can just clarify that for us just so that we have a another perspective on that.

Hemings descendants passing for white in VA

NB: Right, and I think the easiest way to do that is to say he owned 607 people and in his lifetime he only freed 10. um, I think that removes any benevolent [29:00] factor of someone being able to work hard enough to earn their freedom. He freed Sally Hemings’ children because they made an agreement and as Madison says he upheld that; a verbal agreement with an enslaved woman. He does the same with her older brother who he also freed because James Hemings while in Paris negotiated his own Freedom at the sake of his brother, which is an interesting family Dynamic But um, you know, I think we have to look at Jefferson’s racial beliefs to really get to the core of understanding What happened with his children. Uh, he writes in notes on the state of Virginia and it’s law at the time Basically that anyone who is 7/8ths white is white. and his children with Sally Hemings are 7/8ths white, They are light enough to pass. So he allows Beverly and Harriet the two oldest, uh, Beverly being his oldest son and Harriet being their only daughter together, uh frees them and they pass into white society and we never hear from them again. Um, when he dies as Eston and Madison are freed In the will and they go to live in Charlottesville where in 1830 [30:00] they’re both listed as free white along with their mother Sally Hemings, which is interesting. They’re listed as free white, but then Virginia gets very strict after the Nat Turner rebellion, and they’re required to register for free and when they do so they register as black and they’re required to leave the state of Virginia.

So they move to Southern Ohio and from there one of them chooses to remain African-American and that’s Madison And his brother Eston decides to move one more time to Wisconsin changes his name from Eston Hemings to E.H. Jefferson and his descendants go on believing that they are Irish immigrants, which is a really interesting story. that’s passed down in the oral history. So, um, it’scomplicated but I think the core of their racial identity is really why Jefferson frees them.

JP: That’s fascinating.

DMcD: Fascinating, enlightening in the whole range of other things we could add here. Uh, I’m not going to keep sticking to this one note but to go back just [31:00] once more to the idea of Sally Hemings and what power and agency she may or may not have had. as literary scholar. Of course. I’m inclined to have many references to literature and especially to the literature of enslaved people. So I think when I think about Sally Hemings, about Harriet Jacobs for example and Harriet Jacobs while she fends herself Against The Unwanted sexual aggression so her owner, dr. Flint, uh, she does enter willingly into a relationship with uh, another white Plantation owner, he’s not her owner. Um, but he is a part of thesystem and she talks about it explicitly as a choice on her part. It is better [32:00] to give oneself is what she’s saying in essence. I’m paraphrasing her, uh than you know, in other words to choose your own love object then to have somebody forced forced himself upon you. So she and her children are also vulnerable to and victims of the system, but she enters into that, uh consciously, willingly. Uh, she too is Young And I think in addition to thinking about race and racial identity in this conversation We also have to think about for the historical record the fact that separate stages of childhood that we honor and assume at our historical moment did not obtain in this era so that childhood as this period of a separate stage, a separate and protected stage of development is fairly late in human history and is not obtaining people at the age of 14 could [33:00] be married at the time. This is not to erase any of the complications you have introduced into the conversation but to say That this is so bedeviling because we have to consider all of these issues in space and time.

Complicating Hemings through the perspective of childhood

NB: Right, Exactly. And I think that’s a really good point you make because I actually should have mentioned what the age of consent in Virginia was at that time and it’s 10. It’s 10 years old. Um, Sally Hemings is not considered a child at 16. In fact many white women at the time are not considered children either. Uh, so this is really Uh as a scholar who’s here currently on Fellowship, her name is Montia Gardner. She’s been doing some research on reproductive resistance of enslaved women and she suggests that it’s a gender issue and not a racial one. It really is that Sally Hemings is considered a Woman by the time she’s 16, um and some more background on what children are doing here. I mean by the age of five you have a job and from 5 to 10, you’re doing things like [34:00] babysitting other children carrying water to people who are working. This is not a world where you get to hold onto childhood until you’re 18. It’s just not how that was. And I think um, you know, Deborah is right to point out that you don’t have a childhood in the modern sense.

Challenges of creating the Sally Hemings exhibit at Monticello

JP: Yeah, and so the exhibit I mean what were some challenges in making this exhibit? I mean you point out This really rich actual amount of historical detail about the Hemings family, but I know that Deborah’s pointed out that there’s no sort of authoritative image of Sally Hemings herself And so I don’t know. I wonder if you can maybe just speak a bit about the unique challenges of mounting this exhibit.

NB: right, you know in working on this exhibit One of the first things we became aware of is that while Sally Hemings has always been one of the most famous or one of the most recognizable Enslaved women in the US by her story, We actually don’t know a ton about her private life. Uh, we don’t have any photographs of [35:00] her. Uh, so we weren’t willing to make leaps in the exhibit about her complexion or about how straight is “long, straight, dark hair.”€ Uh, how long is long hair? Um, she’s described as being a very handsome which is pretty but like what do those features mean? So rather than guess at what she looked like we decided to represent her the same way that we were going to represent Martha. If we’re going to do Martha Jefferson, then uh and in her space put a dress and give her a physical presence Then we had to do the same for Sally Hemings. Um, so that was our first decision is she has to have a presence in the room. Uh, the second thing is putting her voice there and because we don’t have any writings from her and we assumed that perhaps she was literate, her brother was literate in both French and English. Um, you know, we’re making a little bit of a leap, but there are no papers from her. you know the nature of slavery is that there are rarely our papers from enslaved people. So, uh, since we didn’t have 36:00her words the closest we could get was having her son Madison and having his testimony that he gave to a newspaper in Southern Ohio in 1873. Um, fortunately for us we were working with a firm out of um, Canada and they saw almost immediately that you could take Madison Hemings words And turn it into poetry. So that’s what we decided to do in this space to make it as beautiful as possible and to allow people to have a most intimate conversation with Sally Hemings and we did that with Madison’s words. So the room itself is very simple. There’s no furniture we decided because there is the cooks room in the same part of the house that you could already see what a slave quarter would have looked like so there was no need to reproduce another period room where we put a bed, Furniture and textiles there was no need for all that. So the room is very simple you walk in and then there’s a multimedia presentation and that’s [37:00] narrated exclusively by Madison with some background sounds to illuminate the activities.

JP: Yeah. Um, it looks like it’s starting to maybe drizzle which should be Okay, as long as it doesn’t start pouring down. um, the the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences talks about needing to have The University of Virginia be a university of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. And so I wonder if you can either speak on that or are meditate on what sort of a Monticello by or for Sally Hemings May look like?

NB: you know, I think Monticello and the University of Virginia are both grappling with the same issue. And in many ways the city of Charlottesville after the August 12th white supremacist rally in 2017. Um, everyone has come up with An idea of the American founding and for a lot of people, uh, the founding is predominantly male and white. and while the people who are framing early [38:00] America are male and white and for the most part wealthy, uh, there are millions of other people here, most of them enslaved. Um, there are also Native Americans This land that we are on is stolen so Uh, there are lots of layers to this history and we would be telling an incomplete story if you came here and you got a story about Thomas Jefferson, one dead white guy on a plantation of hundreds of other people. uh, that wouldn’t do it justice and it’s not enough just to talk about the enslaved Community either because Jefferson was here and his family was here. Uh, so you have to talk about the women, you have to talk about the children, You have to talk about, uh, the hired Workman who were here who were free white workman Who lived in close proximity to enslave to people; you have to talk about that dynamic as well. Because that cuts at every subsection of the American population. That is our American story. That is something we can all see ourselves in. And as Monticello is telling the story we’re looking for a story that all Americans can take in and can identify where they fit into this [39:00] story. It also can’t be one that’s exclusively sad. It can’t be slavery was horrible all the time because it was, slavery was a terrible. It was demeaning it dehumanized people. Um, but it also um, you know slavery was the foundation of our new country and this is going to sound really harsh But America would have never become the world power that it is without the institution of slavery [40:00] and that is not glorify slavery, but it’s to acknowledge that it is the economic base of early America and we can’t tell a story about a president, about someone who served in political power who went abroad and represented this country, without talking about the institution of slavery and the people who were here.

JP: Wonderful. Um, so yeah I wonder if we start maybe wandering to uh, you know to the enclosure but yeah, I mean, this is just a wonderful conversation.

DMcD: Really, I mean just so so rich, I’m just wondering if we get out of the rain. you’re still free for lunch?

NB: Yeah. I’m still free for lunch. Uh, I can do lunch until two o’clock.

JP: Okay, great, Great. Well, yeah we can kind of wander and I’m fine to kind of..

DMcD: and maybe would you mind if We turn the recorder on again because it’s just wonderfully rich..

NB: Yeah no that’s fine

JP: and I can kind of keep it, you know, yeah rolling a little bit

DMcD: Yes, just amazing, exactly what we’re after here.

JP: Yeah. and luckily it’s not too much.

DMcD: …but really thinking about uh all exhibitions are Involved in leaps of interpretation and leaps of imagination. Uh, but I can imagine people taking exception to the kind of exhibition you have mounted and not then having the generosity of spirit or for that matter, uh, the wealth of knowledge to say well [41:00] all exhibitions involved interpretive leaps, right choices, certain choices, avoid other choices. Uh, and so how would you defend your exhibition against the Skeptics unable to have that kind of intellectual elasticity?

NB: you know, I don’t know that we necessarily have to defend it. Uh We’ve presented all of the information outside of the room on text panels. and the reality of Museum exhibitions is that not everybody’s going to like it. And for people who are not ready for these stories perhaps this is too bold of a statement, To give her space to give her story of space, to do something like you know give her that physical presence and to use Madison’s memoir a lot [42:00] of people will say “well that’s not fact, that’s oral history, That’s the way he remembered it.€ Well we’re able to take Thomas Jefferson’s words and say that that’s fact, we’€™re happy to use his family’€™s words and say that that’€™s fact. It’s really only when it comes to these African-American perspectives where people are less willing to be generous in the information that they can conceive. So, yeah.

JP: pick a souvenir?

DM: well, I don’t recognize this plant. I’m a gardener, too.

NB: Oh, they normally have plates that say what they are.

DM: Oh good and I wanted to take a picture, but I Didn’t want to interrupt the… and uh..

NB: Joseph’€™s Coat amaranths tri-color

DM: Joseph’s coat

NB: 1786

DM: because I yes, it obviously thrives here. Oh good James get it because I want this in my garden. I don’t recognize it and I recognize every other plant [43:00] along this this uh, path But I just didn’€™t recognize it.

(Conversation about plants)

Now when I said defend, I meant that kind of only in the loosest sense because I would agree with you that it does not need defending but that people will be prepared to accept as you say any other Leaps of imagination or any other representations of historical reality, right? If the descendants of Jefferson, if their words can be accepted and if they have a certain amount or provide historical record of a certain amount of veracity, why can’€™t, Exactly. Yeah, I would completely agree and I think we’re bringing our students interns here on Tuesday to see the exhibition. But I think one of the things he will [44:00] definitely want to stress with them is that um, this is thinking of museums, We shouldn’t limit our thoughts to hard fact, is or isn’€™t.

NB: Sometimes you have to draw from the gray space. Oh, yeah, I mean you need so much about her [unintelligible] and you have to quantify it in some way to put it into an exhibit.

DM: Exactly.

NB: And I think some of the things are [ ] in my opinion brilliant.

DM: I think the very idea of the exhibition is brilliant.

NB: Yeah, and I think you know the Canadian designers were excellent for seeing that early on. And for bringing us along with it.

DM: How did you settle on them? How did you settle on actually inviting people in to help you imagine the exhibition

NB: we kind of did it like you would do any process; put out a call Essentially. [45:00] we sought out designers who we thought would have the right type of background, people would work in theatre. We knew we wanted to do something more um involved. So we went with a designer who had a lot of theater design and set design experience. and they ended up being the best pick.

DM: and what’s so interesting about that is we do not think about museological work as in any way in the universe [unintelligible] in consultation with people whose domain is performance

NB: Exactly, and for people outside of the US who had like no preconceived Notions of American slavery, right? which is great because they saw the voids [46:00] that most of our average visitors have because they don’t study this all the time.

Not so bad? Reconciling the beauty of Monticello with its history of violence

DMcD: Do you see, and what I love about that Oh Look at this. Look at this.

NB: This makes my job hard.

JP: What do you mean?

NB: This view is so pretty. Monticello is gorgeous, even though it’s a place where a lot of people experienced violence and inequality and just like a lot of pain. Uh, even Jefferson’s family. I mean his wife lost a couple children, She died in childbirth after their sixth. I mean, there’s a lot of uh, very difficult emotions here and yet people come inevitably and they get this great view to the east they’re like, oh it’s not that bad, which is something we actually have to fight. We put a sign in one of the reconstructed quarters that says not so bad question Mark, because we had a lot of people going in there and saying oh this is kind of nice, it’s not that bad. Uh, so we had to remind them that it you know, people could be sold and that’€™s the reality.

DMcD: I like that you have adjusted the signage to reflect responses from the [47:00] public. I find that in itself, because the idea that even the Commitment to reinterpreting this history can itself continue to evolve, can continue to remain dynamic. It’s never Frozen.

NB: and we’re thankful for that, Right? I mean the interpretation here 25 years ago is nowhere what you get today, right?

DMcD: Nowhere near. but on that question of not so bad, I’m reminded of uh, I don’t know if you were attended the second, um universities and slavery conference last October, but I’ve been to chair the panel and I had some ambivalence about joining the panel which featured um heads of Institutions likeMonticello, the person for Montpelier was there, and/or college presidents, who were all confronting their slave pasts and that they had all chosen to highlight [48:00] Henry the bell ringer or the Lemon project at William and Mary and I said, well, what if we imagine as we are retelling this history or what if we had to consider that we may be contributing to sanitizing this history that if Henry got up every morning no matter what and Faithfully rang the bell, Why can’t we also find the space, even if we don’t have the documentary evidence in the form of a figure like Henry the bell ringer or lemon, that this was a brutal institution and people were undone by this institution. And so even in trying to imagine it in a way or reimagine it by saying well, despite it all whether you intend That or not, well you focus on the people who rang the bell every day what you are saying inadvertently is it wasn’t so bad. So when I did say that 49:00the person from Monticello who was representing Monticello did say that they had had to consider that and I’m now glad to see that He did it. because otherwise you do inadvertently create the sense that people endure, people survive. and that’s important. That’s an important part of the narrative, but it’s not the only part of the narrative so that even as we say to go back to your earlier and very important point there was joy, There was tragedy, pain, there was joy, there was um, people sustaining family relations to the extent that they could uh, and that holding these things together simultaneously, uh is so important, uh, but for me, refusing to let slavery be incorporated into a general tendency in this country to see everything in progressivist terms. We [50:00] are getting better and better and better and better. I think it should be possible to say there was some people who did not survive this institution. Some people were undone by this institution and that undone-ness they bequeathed to the generations that came after them and yes, we have to acknowledge that at the same time.

Limitations of a progressivist view of history

NB: I think for us and you’re pointing to the danger of having a singular Narrative, of having a history that goes from bad to better to best and we’re not there. We’ve never been that country and that’s kind of like the failure of the American dream. It’s the failure of American exceptionalism, that we can never actually be a perfect country and we never have been and that our history instead of being this Arc that goes from low to high is actually been more kind of hilly, you know, uh, uh, it’s more cyclical than we previously thought.


DMcD: and The valleys have been low. And we’re in pretty low valley right now.

NB: And within those stories There are different highs and lows for each moment, but like even telling the story of James Hemings, it’s like yes, he was an exceptional, had an exceptional life; traveled to Paris, he was more or better traveled than most white Americans at the time. I went to Paris twice. We think he went there after he gained his freedom. He gained his freedom and He navigated this space from free to enslave to free again. Um, but ultimately he committed suicide and we have to acknowledge that he lived in a country that was not free and he couldn’t be free and his family couldn’t be free and that resulted in him taking his own life. Um, and these are the realities of slavery. So how do we bring back something that can never be returned to a place? Obviously, we’re not going to take the road of doing reenactments of slavery, of people being beaten, people being punished, of people having everything taken from them, having their children sold, we’re never going to recreate that [52:00] atmosphere here, but we do have to complicate it for our visitor who often only thinks of the carceral punishment and not the psychological, not the type of trauma that is intergenerational, not the type of trauma that has survived to the present. You know? I may never know where my ancestors lived and worked uh fortunately for the families here We had a great deal of records and we can give that back to them and we have a responsibility to do so, um, but it is hard. It’s challenging to do both at the same time

DMcD: speaking of reenactments. I mean, I could just talk to you forever and ever and ever. Speaking of reenactments, What do you think of those environments that do go that route and more specific than that, What do you think of the slave dwelling project? I think that’s the term where people are sleeping out, what do you make of that as a way of responding to the historical past?

NB: You know, I think there’s value in both of those experiences. I don’t know that Monticello will ever be deciding uh, where we do reenactments. We do have [53:00] people come during the Heritage Harvest Festival. We have storytellers along while Mulberry row, We have basket weavers, people who are showing skills that enslaved people had – we have cooking demonstrations. But Monticello is just not an institution where we do costumed interpretation, and I don’t think there’s anything really negative about that. I think if it’s done, well, it’s a good way for people to be immersed in a time and period that they may not understand. the slave dwelling project though I think opens a new realm for connecting with the history. I don’t know if I’m as open to it outside of The Descendant Community as we’ve only done it with descendants here and what’s been special is that because we have so many good records. I can put the Hemings family in the Hemings cabin. I can put descendants of Isaac Granger in the storehouse for iron where he was a blacksmith. I can put um, the Hearn and Fossett descendants in the kitchen and they’re able to really spend time here when it’s quiet when there are no visitors when there’s no one else here, no lighting and connect [54:00] With their ancestors in that way and for some people that’s really valuable. It’s been really restorative for some um. there are descendants of the Gillette family in particular who have mentioned having a lot of resentment and having a lot of anger and distrust for this institution and for Thomas Jefferson who after this slave dwelling project feel more connected with their ancestors feel more pride and I think that is a beneficial tool.

NB: very nuanced response. Is it time?

JP: Oh, yeah, we should be mindful of the time that you have.

NB: Yeah it’€™s 11:55.

JP: It’€™s almost 12.

DMcD: Yeah should the tour is going to start at 12 and then go to lunch?

JP: Yeah I think that’d be great.

NB: Do you want to maybe walk down and see the “œNot so bad?” There’€™s gonna be a slavery tour starting in five minutes, but you may want to catch some audio from that.

DMcD: I’m so glad to hear you say that and to have the context for his remarks, I’m forgetting his name. Is there a Gary?

NB: Yes, Gary Sandling. he’s our VP of education.


DMcD: yeah that’€™s who it was because that was his response to my question that we cannot just simply say despite it all people managed because some people did not.

NB: Yeah some people didn’t survive.

DMcD: no, they did not, they did not.

NB: and some people are still struggling.

DMcD: Right!

NB: You know, that’s like there is a lot of hurt That took place in the era of slavery That has not been resolved.

DMcD: That this is intergenerational that um, I’ve been, well not recently but once did some work with these two anthropologists. Um, um, the Kleinmans Arthur and unfortunately not remembering her name, but the work is called “How Bodies Remember,” uh, and that what people pass on to each other bodily, psychically, from generation to generation, uh, his subjects are the descendants [56:00] of the Chinese Revolution, but the insights that or the questions he raised in the insights He provides I think are useful for us to consider when thinking about slavery, uh that this, what this institution did and was lives within us in ways that we don’t know, some ways We do know um, and we have to keep acknowledging that because institutions, uh, Monticello, the University of Virginia, William and Mary, Brown. You name it, they’€™re in the business of preserving an image of themselves and that for many of them the so-called return to considering their Slave past, uh has to be conducted within the context of their overarching commitment.

NB: Oh why don’€™t we wait while people step out.

DMcD: Their overarching commitment to preserve constructing and preserving an [57:00] image of themselves exactly as they wish to be seen.

NB: right, exactly. And you know what? I don’t know if you were here for Uh, June 16th when we opened the new exhibit.

DMcD: No I was at a conference.

NB: Okay, great. Well, so that day we had a panel in which the president of the Ford Foundation was here, Darren Walker. and he had this fantastic quote about philanthropy, but I think it also relates to um, acknowledging our painful history, our contested past. Uh, he said, it’s not about what you’re giving back, It’s about what you’€™re willing to give up and I think for these institutions, they really have to re-evaluate what what we’re doing. Um, it’s not enough just to talk about black people who were here. You have to really be able to shake up the interpretation and you have to give up your comfort level with talking about decorative arts and having a singular narrative about Thomas Jefferson. You have to really be willing to potentially lose donors to lose Uh 58:00visitors you have to really uh, take some risks with telling the story because not everyone’s ready for it. But it’s a conversation that needs to happen in our country if we ever hope to move forward.

DMcD: Yeah, that is exactly the point to be made. I’ve said again and again even around how we’re responding to August 11 and 12 knowing as important as it is to know the roots of the University of Virginia and the town of Charlottesville in white supremacy, simply knowing is not enough. that that knowing then has to be translated into something much more disruptive. We don’t know for the sake of knowing, we know for the sake of doing better

NB: and you know here we’re rethinking our tours We’re trying to link our main house tour experience with the slavery tour, which you’re seeing Um for our listeners, there were standing outside of the reconstructed Hemings quarter and there’s a large tour group gathering. we run these slavery tours every 30 59:00minutes from 10:00 to 4:00. Um, and the groups are getting bigger and bigger which is great. But we’d like to make these one experience.

JP: So you’re talking about the principle of splitting, there’s a house tour and a separate slavery tour.

NB: Currently, there’s a house tour and then you can opt into taking the slavery tour and we’re working on a way to not make that optional, to make it a main part of our experience.

DMcD: Because otherwise you do create the sense that these are separable, that what are inseparable Experiences can be separated because obviously people not wanting to confront the quote-unquote painful past will opt out.

(Moving for tour group)

DMcD: So where would we see the sign.

NB: Just left through the door.

The role of family during slavery

(Entering the slave cabin)


JP: Can you maybe tell us what we’re looking at here?

NB: Sure. So we’re standing inside of the Hemings cabin, which we’ve interpreted for John and Priscilla Hemings and we’re looking at that not so bad plaque that I mentioned earlier. Uh, so this cabin is about 10 by 14. It’s a really nice restoration or Recreation of what would have been here. It’s a lot of building,There’s a loft upstairs. We’re standing on a dirt floor, but it’s pretty clean 61:00because it’s a restoration. Um, actually it’s a recreation it was not here to restore. Um, so it’s necessarily overbuilt and probably a lot nicer materially than a slave quarter would have been. Now we restored the Using the same methods, same construction, practice, same types of trees. Um, but again, it’s a museum and we clean things daily because we have to prepare for all these visitors to see it. Um, so it is nicer than probably enslaved people would have known so we had to put a sign here that basically addresses that. that says that enslaved people as property could always be sold and separated and the one thing they had was their families. That is the ultimate tool for controlling enslaved people is the threat of selling away their children or even any family member really.

JP: you just reminded me and this maybe can be our final question. But you just reminded me of kind of a critical question that I’ve had in the past and it’s [62:00] come up in past interviews and maybe two-part questions. I’ll start with the first one which is if you can maybe talk a little bit about how Jefferson used the family structure on the plantation. So you mentioned like keeping the Hemings family together more or less but maybe meditating on that a bit as Jefferson as sort of the father Monticello or like in this weird, So if you can comment on that and then I’ll do my follow-up.

NB: Yes, so slavery is a very patriarchal institution. Uh, it’s one where a lot of slave owners rationalize their participation in what was a very cruel and violent Institution and we we’ll step over here So we don’t get as much sound from outside but was a very cruel, violent institution and corrected people. Uh, they Justified it by saying that uh, you couldn’t free these enslaved Africans who were not considered people because they couldn’t take care of themselves because they were like children. So it’s a very patriarchal way to think of your role in society. So Jefferson as father Of Monticello to everyone [63:00] here and he’s very exacting even with his own white family members like his daughters have to live their lives based on a schedule that he said, you know, they have to spend a certain amount of time practicing the piano practicing the violin, studying different topics because he said so and for the enslaved people that means they have to work sunup to sundown because he said so uh, so that is a very, um, I don’t know, it’s interesting to consider. but then when you think about the way that he thinks about enslaved families, I mean, he writes that enslaved people aren’t capable of having these feelings, but then also recognizes that they are and uses that to control its leverage basically, um, when Monticello first became a plantation, when he first builds this property and this is through the 1760s-1770s enslaved people were living in more Barracks style housing slightly larger than the building we’™re in. all men would have lived together, all women. But then as plantation society is becoming more [64:00] established Um, there’s a there’s really good book actually called advice Among Masters. So slaveholders start talking to each other and they’re like, Hm. Let’s set a list of best practices and basically they realize that enslaved people really value their families and the best way to incentivize them to work harder is to keep the families together, but that also means that the worst punishment is to break up a family. And to sell someone and so what that looks like is individual housing for family units. Um, you know, these houses especially these log buildings moved with the work, not along Mulberry row certainly out of the quarter Fields, uh quarter Farms. So at the quarter farms, they move based on where the Harvest is going, but the family stays together for the most part. Um, there are instances where children are sent to Poplar forest or To uh, send us gifts as Dowry to other members of the Randolph family. Um, so there are instances where people are separated but you know the method that he’s [65:00] using to manage this Plantation is to keep families together

Family separation as a tool of control

JP: and then there’s that moment, so just to follow up, so keeping families together is sort of a way of making them more productive laborers? Is that fair to say?

NB: Yeah, that’s what he’s hoping.

JP: And there’s a moment. Um, I guess upon I guess was it Isaac Jefferson recounting the moment of selling off families. I wonder if you can talk about that briefly and that might have been you can correct me if I’m wrong but following Jefferson’s death?

NB: That’s after Jefferson’s death, yes. So after Jefferson dies, he dies deeply in debt. his son-in-law becomes the executor, Sorry, his grandson becomes the executor of his will um, and he’s tasked with selling everybody. So in 1827, 130 people are offered For sale and for Isaac, I believe Madison andIsrael both mentioned in their Memoirs. This is a moment of great uncertainty for these families because they’re not sure whether they get to stay together. [66:00] And for many of them, they don’t. they’re purchased by neighbors, They’re purchased by other members of Jefferson’s family, They’re purchased by professors at the University of Virginia. And in many cases, they are separated. and now behind the scenes, uh, some of the enslaved men who are living and working along Mulberry row and I’m talking your tradesmen, so the Carpenters, the joiners, the blacksmiths, people who have a little bit wider Network have negotiate purchases to keep their families together. Uh, so that shows that the enslaved Community is aware of this as well and that they are strategizing to keep their families together and that they’re resisting separation, which I think is a really important element.

JP: I’m so glad we got to ask that question.

DMcD: Yes, I am.

JP: Family separation is really prominent these days.

DMcD: And to bring this conversation full circle and reiterate what you just said contrary to what Jefferson is arguing in query 14, uh, their griefs are transient. They don’t love, I’m paraphrasing here, um to the extent that other [67:00] humans love that he is clearly aware that there, it is just the opposite and that he can exploit that for his own purposes. And we can see that even in the aftermath of slavery. I have always found it incredibly moving that among the first things newly free people did was to roam the countryside looking for their lost relatives, placing ads in religious newspapers. They are telling that these are people whose effective lives are deep and rich whose family ties are strong. And have been ruptured and so yeah, we can, now I’m sermonizing.

NB: Can I just add, because I really like, because you can see that people are remembering family members They lost a long time ago. It’s like, you know my mother, I was separated from her at age three. She’s in Virginia. I’m in Louisiana and I’m placing an ad in hopes that someone has seen her or can [68:00] reconnect us.

DMcD: Absolutely. That’s that’s one of. Moving parts to about Paul D in Beloved, uh or sick soul in Beloved called in the novel The 30-mile Man. That the distance is people would walk and travel for some connection. However friable to a loved one. Douglass writes about it in the 1845 narrative, his mother traveling from another Plantation. So it is indisputable that enslaved people were deeply and emotionally connected to their loved ones and to suggest otherwise.

DMcD: I had to censor myself.

JP: Yeah, right it’€™s nonsense.

Robert Fatton, Jr.

Transcript (text only)

Interviewee: Robert Fatton, Jr., Julia A. Cooper Professor of Government and Foreign Affairs in the Department of Politics at the University of Virginia

Interviewer(s): Deborah E. McDowell; James Perla

Interview date: 2018-06-15

Interview Summary: This interview with Robert Fatton Jr.,the Julia A. Cooper Professor of Government and Foreign Affairs in the Department of Politics at the University of Virginia, delves into Jefferson’s controversial view on the country of Haiti. Fatton discusses the relationship between Haiti and the U.S. since the Haitian Revolution and the ways in which Jefferson’s language describing Haiti as a “republic of cannibals” has reemerged in the present discourse.

Keywords: Haiti, Haitian Revolution, Toussaint Louverture, France, Sally Hemings

Transcription: Hahna Cho


Deborah McDowell: Yeah, you know I’m just thinking about… my mind is roving over a whole range of things. I haven’t yet seen the new Exhibition at Monticello.

Robert Fatton, Jr.: Oh!

DM: That’s supposedly devoted to Sally Hemings.

RF: That’s interesting.

DM: Yes, and oh, yes I want to see it in different lights. I want to see it. As a private person, I want to see it in with a group of friends, and then I want to take a group of students there because it is all based on the imagination. Or an imaginary Sally Hemings because there, you know, maybe there was onephotograph maybe and that photograph bore a strong resemblance to Martha Washington because they were half sisters but it’s an exhibition that is imagining a Sally Hemings down to her space in the big house, as it were. And so we, it makes me think that here we are now, for however long we will be I don’tknow, at a moment where at least Monticello, which is the caretaker of, in part of, Jefferson’s memory, his legacy, especially as an icon. That that narrative seems to be changing. That people seem to be open to changing the narrative about Thomas Jefferson if only by acknowledging that Sally Hemings existed. She existed as someone in possibly a long-term relationship with him and someone in a relationship with him that resulted in the birth of children and yet it all has to be imagined and there is an element of speculation about everything, right? That we don’t know this is where we think she slept, right? And all of that. So thinking about the absence of the kind of iconic figure, the face of which is beaming from every poster, billboard, or lunch counter, if you will. That that’s absent in Cuba but still is very much alive here. So this is not so much a question but a kind of long-winded preamble to try to have us just into it. But what I found interesting is that there are two interpretations warring not violently with each other even with this new Jefferson that we’re trying to imagine. Because in the New York Times’s€™ review of the exhibition, the young people who are responsible for setting up the exhibition, who want to invoke the issue of rape basically want to say on the museum or the exhibition placards, “Jefferson raped Sally Hemings.” And yet there are other historians now retired from Monticello who are obviously taking umbrage, but they don’t want to say that in so many words. So, someone for example like Cinder Stanton says “Well, how do you talk about a person raping another person for thirty plus years?” That that’s unimaginable. We don’t think of that as rape. If there are sexual relations between people over the span of thirty-five years, we aren’€™t inclined to view that as right. And so all of that is a long way into saying that these narratives die hard even when people think that they are open to rethinking them.

Sally Hemings Exhibition

RF: Yeah.

DM: The iconic figure of Jefferson dies hard. Not only that, and I must say myself is not a person who was not worshipping at the shrine of Jefferson, I too kind of bristle at the thought that Jefferson is being represented as having raped Sally Hemings and it all got me thinking about the extreme interpretations that all of us have been, in a way, in the grip of for quite a while. That there is [5:00] not much room for nuance. Either he raped her or he didn’t.

RF: The thing though is that because of the racism, extreme racism of the period because of slavery, whatever Jefferson did to slave could not be rape because it was a thing. So, the idea even if he did in fact rape her, in his eyes, it’s not rape because it’s a thing that is out there, it’s an object, it’s not a full human being. And when you read Jefferson’€™s writings about the sexual desires of black men and black women it is absolutely horrific. In The Notes on Virginia, I mean when he talks about, you know, the orangutan, it’s really, it’s terrorizing for someone who is not white and not a slave owner because that’s the way he sees it. So in his eyes, whatever he did to any slave couldn’t be seen as some sort of relation between two different human beings because one was not quite a human being.

DM: Yeah two different orders of species, right?

RF: And Jefferson went back and forth because he does say at some points that maybe they are inferior. But other points he doesn’t seem to say so. He was conflicted about whether there was a real biological difference that would essentially say that one race was completely superior over the other. At other points he does seem to say so and that’s very clear.

DM: And he equivocates. He constantly equivocates.

RF: Yeah, absolutely. And at that period, Jefferson was probably one of the most reactionary individuals who had read about the Enlightenment among whites. You know, there are plenty of whites who were abolitionists and his relation with Haiti it’s very clear that he comes, well, he called, you know, the Haitians the republic of cannibals. So that is the way he saw it. But on the other hand, at certain moments because of geopolitical and economic interest he would curb his racism because you wanted to weaken, on the one hand, the French which meant that you could, you know, in a very duplicitous way allow American merchants to give weapons to the Haitian Revolution, the slave revolutionaries, and you could continue commerce that was good for the merchant and the bankers of the United States, but on the other hand you would tell the French, —No we are with you and we are going to starve Toussaint.€” So for a while the US’€™s merchant relationship, economic relationship with Haiti and it probably would have continued if Adams that stayed in power. But once the revolution is over, once Haiti becomes independent, then there’s a complete change of policy. It is an embargo, he doesn’t want to have anything to do to Haiti, Haitians, the Haitian leader at the time, Dessalines, sent him a letter telling him “I’m not going to do anything in terms of exporting my revolution, but we need to have relations€ and he never answers.

DM: So everything for Jefferson is expedient from your description. Everything is expedient.

RF: Well, yes, and no. Because there is the issue of race, which is always in the background because when he’s talking about Haiti under Toussaint which was kind of an autonomous state not yet independent, this is also the potential to give independence to Haiti so Haiti could be a colony for black people. Send them there. But he says at the same time it has to be contained. And he says, when he uses the word, the pest has to be contained on the island. So that’s kind of a colony for black people, to export black people from the United States. So he has at one moment the idea the independence might not be such a bad thing provided on the other hand that Haitians would not have a navy and would not have any weapons. So he wanted a completely pacified island for its colonial purposes.

DM: I’m really interested in the last few minutes you’ve made reference to Jefferson’s description of Haiti as a republic of cannibals and then Haitian people are pests. This language of, you’re right, it’s not, it does not place Haitian citizens in the realm of humanity, right?

RF: But on the other hand, he looked at Toussaint as somewhat, €œwhat weird guy, you know? He’s defying some of the things I’m thinking about black people but he’s still

DM: He’€™s still a pest.

RF: Yeah, he’€™s still a pest. And he looks also at Haiti and it’s not just Jefferson. Madison says the same thing that they needed a despot at the head of Haiti because that’s the only way you can contain people who were slaves who’€™ve become free. There is a vision that if you give freedom to the slaves, that is going to be horrific because they are going to kill, kill, and kill. So, there is that vision. Now, I’ve just read an article, which is kind of peculiar article, saying that Jefferson when he talked about Haiti as the republic of cannibals, he was not really referring to Haitians per se, he was referring to the Jacobins. The French Jacobin. But that is kind of a weird thing. A lot of the American leaders at the time taught that the French Revolution went too far in terms of the killings under Robespierre. But, I read the letter that where he uses Haiti as the republic of cannibals, a letter to Aaron Burr, and I don’t see how you can explain that expression without looking at the direct connection to Haiti. But there is that thing that in fact he may have also wanted to talk about the Jacobins. But we know that Jefferson was a Francophile and he was more sympathetic to the revolution than Adams, I mean they were really terrified about the excesses of the revolution. So I think that that description is still the one that should hold. That he sees that and whenhe talks about the pests contained, that’s also about Haiti. So, and he wants to embargo and he wants to quarantine the island if it gets independent and when it got its independence, that’s exactly what he did.

James Perla: So the comment about that a despot should rule over Haiti, that comes after independence?

RF: That comes before and after. That if there is to be independence, in any case it’s going to be a despot because that’€™s the only way those people can be ruled. They are not yet ready for our kind of democracy, as it were, but that’s part also of the way American leaders are the vision of America’s exceptional place in the world because when you look at the United States it was hardly a democracy. First, you had slavery obviously, but most people did have the vote. It’s about 5% of the population which are the vote and they were all whites who owned property and all male. So the idea there was a democracy is really a far-fetched idea. It’s kind of, you know, the building of founding, foundational myth about democracy because there was no democracy at the time even though that you talk about, you know, the equality of people, etc, etc. But there was no such thing even in terms of the French eyes. So, and this is, all countries do the same thing about the Haitians when they created Haiti. You know what ______ the other vision of Haiti was exceptional, the most radical revolution of all places, which it was actually at that time, but they were despots all of them without exception. When they took power they ran the show like messianic leaders and you can you know Toussaint was declared governor for life in his own Constitution, Dessalines became the first leader of Haiti after independence in 1804 and in the very first speech he gives he says you people you’d better watch out and you should never disobey me. He says that. And that’s the way they ran the show and they became emperors, so you have that kind of vision that we are doing something completely new, very different but the structures of inequality, the structures of domination are all there. And those are founding myths and this is very difficult. I don’t want American or Haitian to look at it and say well they were, those people were really despots.

JP: So you’re saying the two almost competing

RF: They’re kind of two competing for, obviously the United States is much more powerful. So therefore the exception is of the United States does matter not just what United States but for the rest of the world because the exceptional idea of the United States is that this is the city on the hill and that it’s exporting democracy all over and that if you don’t follow our way, well, it’s going to be our way or else. Especially if you’re in the Caribbean. Whereas Haiti could say whatever they wanted, but it had no impact because we didn’t have the power. And essentially Haiti relinquishes any revolutionary vision the very day that it becomes independent because they are fearful that if they spread the revolution elsewhere, I mean in terms of slaves getting their freedom, that they will be destroyed and they would have been destroyed by the United States or by the French or by the British or a combination of all of them. So there is a difference between exceptionalism that is for national consumption, but has no real power and one that is for not only national consumption, but that is for also international consumption backed by the power of the most powerful nations. So those are different kinds of exceptionalism, but the myths are very similar.

DM: One is much more rhetorical, and one is rhetorical with a lot of back, of force of ammunition.

RF: Of force of power. Absolutely. And that’s very clear.

DM: You know, it’s been a while since I read C.L.R. James’s€™, The Black Jacobins. Does he talk at all about Jefferson in Haiti?

RF: He doesn’t talk much about it because he looks obviously the title of the book is The Black Jacobins. So it’s much more vision of the Haitian revolutionaries as espousing, if you wish, the bourgeois democratic revolution of 1789 than the American Revolution. So it’s a continuity between the Jacobinsand the French Jacobins and the so-called Black Jacobin. And Toussaint was a francophile. So, it was very clear and he used to send letters to the French leaders, especially to Napoleon saying ______ [French quote], “to the first white to the first black. That’€™s the way he saw himself. And he was aFrancophile and he was in some ways very radical in other ways very conservative and I think the idea of France and the French Revolution, even when Napoleon became the main leader in France, led him to trust the French. And he was, you know, trapped in Haiti and he was captured and sent to France and he died in France and the letters that he writes, a letter saying “What are you doing to me? I’m a French general.” And “œwhat about my family? I can’t see them. How can you treat the French general, someone who’s been€ and Napoleon doesn’€™t even bother to answer it.

DM: So there is French and there is French? Who’s French?

RF: Yeah that and this is this one of the things with after, Toussaint, once he is sent into exile in jail in France, Dessalines decides we are not going to have anything to do with the French, we’re going to kill them. And he says this very clearly, you know, and he takes the French flag and the white part of theFrench flag he destroys. And he puts the red and the blue which is the Haitian flag. So that is also very Dessalines is not a Francophile. I mean, he hates the French. He doesn’t trust them, he thinks they are slave owners and that they are killing slaves. There is no place for friends and he doesn’t want them and the first constitution says no single inch of the Haitian territory can be owned by whites and he really means the French.

DM: It’s very interesting when you start looking at people who are apostles of freedom, who are freedom fighters, who give their lives for the cause of freedom and for many people that means some kind of unqualified investment in the countries they seek to liberate, right? That, this is an imperfect analogy, butas you were just talking about, Toussaint as Francophile, I was thinking about Douglass because my niece and nephew went to the museum and came back with lots of questions about Douglass and you know Douglass is one of the leading abolitionists. He’s clearly the premier speaker on the abolition circuitthroughout the 19th century. And yeah, he was really quite identified with interests that many people would consider quite conservative and at the end of his life, is very much somebody who was a supplicant on the day of Lincoln’€™s second election or inauguration. He [a cough covers the audio] itknown that wouldn’t have been, I need to verify this, in any case, he has become something of a supplicant: “You don’t you know who I am? I am Frederick Douglass’s€ And everybody’s saying well, you may think that means something but it doesn’t mean anything to us. So he becomes very much a person who was trying to claim his own black exceptionalism before people who, I mean even if Lincoln is going to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, we know all the complications of that. That it’s black people who really fought for and rested their own freedom, that Lincoln was not their great emancipator, but it isDouglas who keeps thinking that he can somehow mediate between black people and those in power and that those in power could actually find him a more palatable black person to deal with.

RF: The thing with Toussaint is that, as you know, Toussaint was a slave then he became a slave owner and then he became someone who fought against slavery and he was not one of the first ones. But then he became the leader because he was truly a military genius. But he during the, there were several powers in Haiti: the Spaniards, the British, the French, and he was in the mid-17… 1790s, he was with the Spaniards. But the French Assembly declared that slavery was abolished and there was a French commissioner who was a Jacobin and an abolitionist and he introduced a proclamation in Haiti in 1794, I think, or 1793, I would need to check on that but saying that the slaves were freed in the north of the country in particular there was some ambiguity. So once he heard that, he shifted and he trusted the French because he thought that the Jacobin, and this is again to go back to James’ book, that is why he had the conviction â€œwell the French are different, maybe€ because they are abolishing slavery. “€œThe Jacobins are different people.” They are not like, you know, the Spaniards they are doing it and they are proclaiming it, this a real break with the past. So there is that kind of affinity with the Jacobin but Toussaint was a conservative guy. And it was also a conservatism that was brought about by the Haitian economy. The Haitian economy functioned on slavery and on sugar. So, once you abolish slavery, you had a real problem because how are you going to get the economy going when it’s completely dependent on sugar? So, what all the Haitian leaders, not just Toussaint, up until the 1820s, they impose really a nasty what is called a Code _____ and it’s essentially forced labor on the plantations. It’s not slavery, but it is forced labor and it’s really very a tough thing, even kids are involved. So, the idea was that the only way that Haiti could survive is by having flourishing plantations. The only way that the plantation economy at that particular time could be beneficial was if you had forced labor, not necessary slavery, but forced labor. And there is even some in some writings of Toussaint saying well, we may even import some slaves from Africa to do the dirty work. So, it was a complicated period after 1804, slavery is abolished but the Code _____, Toussaint wants, Petion wants it, but I mean all of the successive leaders, Christophe wants it, because that’s the only way you can survive. The problem though is that the slaves would have none of it. I mean, they fought for slavery and they were essentially people, as we say in Haiti, they were involved in marronage continuously. The state could say something that we would evade and we would get a little plot of land and that would be that so they could never impose the Code ____ effectively. And the other problem was that there was, the United States was not in the business of doing business with Haiti, which was the real problem and the French were not in that business either. So, once Haiti gets its independence, it is kind of cordoned off as kind of a rogue state.


JP: And so what’s “€œmarronage?€”

RF: Marronage is essentially the idea that slaves would escape slavery and do their own thing. But it’s a much more complicated issue. But in Haiti and in Jamaica marronage became a significant phenomenon, whereby slaves would escape and create their communities outside of the plantations and there was some compromise between the leaders of the maroons and the slave owners. So, it’s a complicated…

JP: And it enters into the language as a term of resisting?

RF: It’s kind of resisting by escaping, moving around the issues, you know, the government tells you to do something, you say yes, but you do the opposite.

DM: It’s associated with the former fugitivity. You see, unlike escape say for blacks escaping from slavery on various plantations on the US mainland, because when you escaped from slavery under those conditions, you are escaping that plantation, you were removing yourself from that environment from that land. But maroons are living in contiguous physical relationship to the country. Just separate and apart. In a different social universe.

RF: Yes, in a different community. And there were tensions at the beginning of the Haitian Revolution between maroons and slaves because they were not necessarily on the same side. They have different interests and then you have the conflict also between the slaves who had just arrived, which were called in Haiti, b____. And the slaves who had been in Haiti for a long time who were born in Haiti. The significant number of the slaves who are born in Haiti were the leaders of you see of the revolution and that created a stratification between the local indigenous, if you wish, population and those who have just arrived. And the term b____ in Creole means that you’re kind of inferior. So, that remains as something, you know, that you’re not quite educated etc., etc. So, but there was a tension and then you have obviously in Haiti you at the racial tension between the mulattoes and the blacks and that was a real, I mean, there were civil wars between the different camps here.

DM: So if you were, Robert, to talk to any general community of readers and generally educated people about Jefferson’s relationship to Haiti, what would it be? What would be the philosophical takeaways? What would be the political takeaways when we think about Jefferson and Haiti?

RF: Well, he clearly, his sympathies were not with the slaves and with the slaves who had revolted. Once they revolted on the same geopolitical and economic interest, you could reach a compromise which they, which he did. In spite of his racist convictions. But once Haiti became independent, that was a different matter because one of the things that Jefferson was really concerned about was the spread of the ideas of the Haitian Revolution and this is a very important phenomenon. I mean this is, you can sense it, you read it, it’s there. There is a very famous Haitian anthropologist by the name of Rolph-Trouillot who said that Haiti was not thinkable. That is wrong. That is simply wrong Haiti was so thinkable. That’s why they were so terrified about Haiti. And even before the Revolution, the French were thinking about the possibility of a slave revolution. Obviously it was there and when you read this stuff that they write about Haiti, it’s not that it was not thinkable, it was too thinkable. They were terrified and once Haiti becomes independent, then you want, you don’t want to talk about it. So if you wanted silence. But it’s the silence [30:00] that exists because you are so terrified about the existence of the very phenomenon that you are denying.

DM: And clearly when you read other aspects of Jefferson’s writings, I mean that is a completely imaginable claim in proposition because he is saying pretty much if there is the emancipation of slaves in the US, then these people who were formerly enslaved must be sent off shore. You need to get these people out of here. And you need to get them out of here because the tensions that have arisen and been allowed to flourish for generations will create, he talks about these â€œboisterous passions,€ so he has even imagined this himself.

RF: But there’€™s a debate about the so-called the Toussaint clues. This is about Toussaint _____ and that’s under Adams and it’s called the Toussaint Clause because it was to impose an economic embargo on France except essentially on Haiti which was in the hands Toussaint at that point. And the debate is very clear. I mean even people who are abolitionists, they are terrified of Haiti. I mean I just read some of the debate, there is a fellow Albert Gallatin who was Swiss-born statesman from the United States who was a Congressman and a statesman and abolitionist and he goes on and on about Haiti and how terrifying it would be if they got their independence because they would spread disease elsewhere and he’s an abolitionist. So, this is very present in their mind, but there is the geopolitical interests of the United States. They want the French armies to be weakened. And when Napoleon comes to power it’s even more of a problem than the Haiti problem or the black slavery revolution because they see Napoleon as using Haiti, crushing the revolution in Haiti, and going to Louisiana and controlling the western part of what is now the United States. And one of the ironies of the whole thing is that it’s precisely because Napoleon’s armies were defeated in Haiti that Napoleon came to the negotiating table with Jefferson for the Louisiana Purchase. So, in a weird way, the irony that black slaves revolting, defeating Napoleon allow the negotiations and allow Jefferson to accomplish what some people think is one of the biggest things of his presidency, the expansion of the United States, doubling essentially theterritory of the United States. That to a large degree, not all of it, but to a large degree is a consequence of Napoleon’s defeat in Haiti. Because Napoleon sent 50,000 people and he thought “€We’€™re just going to stop there. We crushed the, you know, the slaves then we send them to the western parts.”€ _____, exactly. That was, Jefferson knows that. Not only Jefferson but all of the statesmen in the United States. And this is why they are plotting so that you can weaken the French while you say at the same time, “We are going to starve Toussaint, we’re going to starve, what they were doing, they were very duplicitous.

JP: So, at that time, the US was plotting to.

RF: Covertly, not the government, but merchants, bankers, it was kind of piratery. They were sending weapons, they were sending, exchanging goods, they didn’t want the French to win. It would it would be a problem for them. They were terrified of Napoleon’s imperialism in what is now the United States, the western part of the United States.

DM: Well you see this is what I meant a few minutes ago. When I asked you know whether Jefferson is ultimately expedient where these calculations I mean we know these calculations are entirely for his own benefit. And the benefit of…

RF: Yeah, there’s a very complex game there. But but on the other hand, I think, you know, if he was not worried above all about the model of Haiti after independence, he could have had a much more relaxed policy. Not to say even recognized but tolerated. Now, he doesn’t want, he wants an embargo. And that’s immediately after in spite of the Haitians begging ultimately, it’s not begging but saying we are not going to send anything on Jamaica or the other islands, don’t worry about it. This is just Haiti. Let’s talk. Let’s re-establish good… No, he doesn’t answer that. And Haiti recognized the idea only in 1862, I think.

DM: So, in what ways are we really dealing with the reverberations of that history?

RF: Well, I think the relation between the United States and Haiti is still very much part of that past. The existing relations, not only that but then United States occupies Haiti too, you know, from 1915 to 1934. And then you know it occupies Haiti again, you know, on a shorter basis but in the 90s and in 2004, which is the bicentennial of the Haitian Revolution. Then the UN replaces them. So you have a story that has a certain amount of continuity because clearly the occupation from the nineteen teens to 1934 is full of racism. I mean, the language is absolutely horrible. I mean the way they look at Haitians. And it’s part of that past that Haitians are savages essentially they can’t run their show. We are going to run it for them and we are going to do it whether they like it or not. And if we have to occupy the country we’ll do so and they did. And if we have to suppress the areas we will and they did. So, that is the story. And even in 2004 you have those kind of that legacy of looking at Haitians as weird, maybe not quite savages but almost savages, practicing voodoo and being incomprehensible and we don’t know how to deal with them, but we should impose something on them. I mean there were reports in 2004 about someChristian leaders in the United States saying that the problem of Haiti was voodoo and that they are savages. That’s basically what they said and we can’t deal with them until voodoo has disappeared. Voodoo is part of the Haitian culture, you’re not going to do anything but really nurture it if you attack it.So you have that then the vision of Haitians are different. Trump! I mean recently. What does he say?

DM: Haiti is a shithole country.

RF: Yeah. So, it’s no longer the cannibals but they are the “shithole country.” So. It’s very much part of that that history and Haitians on the other hand, they have love and hate for the United States because Haitians want to come to the United States because the situation in Haiti is so bad, but on the other hand, they resent the United States because the United States is you know, the big power that tells them what to do. And comes in whenever they feel like it tell them who should be their president, etc. etc. So you have that tension that has not disappeared but we have probably two million Haitians in the UnitedStates, Haitian Americans. And without them the country would fall apart because the remittances are actually much more significant in terms of quantity, amount of money than foreign assistance. So without them, Haiti would be in deep deep trouble. So and also, the United States has a way of solving some of the political problems in Haiti because Haitians exit. Former president Préval in 2010 said very bluntly in Creole: ______, if you want to survive. And that means essentially you have to swim which means you have to cross the sea and go to the United States if you want to survive. So there’s an acknowledgement of that dependence and that economic necessity of exiting the country.

DM: Exiting the country to keep the country alive.

RF: Yeah, going to the United States because that’s where the money is. Or go to Canada. So you have that… but the whole story really starts with the Haitian Revolution and that the tension exists but on the other hand you have many even whites in the United States at the time of the Revolution who admired Toussaint and who admired what slaves could do and it was proof in their view that slavery in the United States should be abolished which also means that it was a great danger to people like Jefferson. Because if whites could, and this is one of the things, Jefferson was not [40:00] just like all the whites. That’s not true. You know, your abolitionists, there were people even when they had slaves, when they died they freed them. Jefferson never did that. And Jefferson would, I just read something about Jefferson saying when he was young that it was for the elder statesmen to decide the issue of slavery when he becomes a statesmen he said it’s a new generation that should deal with slavery. So there’s equivocation at all times. It’s complex. Ultimately I think he knew that it was wrong, but he could not…

DM: He couldn’t disentangle himself from it. And he couldn’€™t disentangle himself from it for a variety of reasons including those deeply personal. I mean, there’s a good bit of self-interest here in the fact slaves were sold to take care of his debts.

RF: Yep absolutely. I mean slaves were capital. And it was a huge amount in the American economy. So the idea that slavery was just racism is also wrong. There’s a lot of economic interest behind slavery. Slavery was capital.

DM: Yeah, and it’s so it actually that history is now or historiography is coming to not so much settle in this place but to basically in the last eight to ten years in particular to focus on capitalism and slavery. It’s not that it had not been a topic broached before because it had but in recent years with ______ and a whole range of other recent books talking about slavery and capitalism. It’s just an unavoidable conversation.

RF: The two arms join at birth. And liberalism is also born with slavery because you know in a fundamental way liberalism was very extreme exclusionary. The idea of liberalism embrace, that’s nonsense. Liberalism was really part of this history of slavery too.

DM: And it remains.

RF: Yes, and the people from the enlightenment which supposedly were so visionary, they couldn’t deal with slavery. Either they were silent on it or they would be very much like Jefferson; equivocate. I mean Locke was against slavery, but he was a member of the I think one of the major trading companies in slavery. Hegel, you know he can’€™t deal with slavery either. Slavery is bad, but we have to keep it. The Africans are not inferior but yes, they are inferior. There is a complete confusion whether it’s intentional, whether it’s related to economic interest, but it’s there that the Enlightenment has a deep problem when it addresses slavery. It doesn’t resolve it. It pushes it, postponed the day of reckoning, a lot of gymnastics around the problem and many of the great philosophers are fundamentally racist.

DM: That is among the most indisputable points that could be raised and even people I mean in the course of this conversation, we’ve been talking about abolitionism and who is an abolitionist and where abolitionists come down, really. It’s clear where they come down on slavery but where they come down on slavery is logically inconsistent with where they come down on race. Where they come down on slavery is it’s a moral wrong. We need to get rid of it. The Massachusetts Anti-slavery Society is among the most prominent of anti-slavery societies and why should we get rid of it? All kinds of apparatus, all kinds of arguments about slavery is wrong it completely disrespects the fundamental unit of humanity that being the family, separating mothers from their children, fathers from their children, fathers i.e. slaveholders selling their children for their own gains that all of this is morally reprehensible. But that did not lead them to the next logical step that these people who are being held captive are like us, they are humans just like us. Abolitionists didn’t believe that for a moment. [45:00] No, we can get rid of slavery, but people whom we have held captive are not like us, they are not equal to us, and we are not compelled to think of them as being equal to us.

JP: Which is why I think it’s truncation example that if you give is very instructive in the sense of abolitionists actually being advocates for censuring and sort of closing off trade with Haiti for that exact reason. So what are a few..

RF: They are essentially afraid of the consequences of their beliefs because they can’t go to the logical conclusion. And I think it’s deeply related to the kind of visceral racism that existed and economic interests. The two are deeply connected. One reinforces the other. Because if you’re going to put people into slavery, you need to dehumanize them to such an extent that you come to be convinced that they are inferior, that they are not quite human beings. So then you can put them in the position where you can exploit their labor and you feel, you don’t feel bad about it. And clearly many of those people didn’t feel bad about it because the punishments that were given to slaves were absolutely horrific. I mean, it’s mind-boggling to think about what went on during slavery. As examples, cutting hands, cutting legs, you know, there are even stories of putting people in holes and putting honey on their heads and letting them be eaten by ants. And there were even worse stories about where you put dynamite in a slave etc. So it’s a horrible story and the only way you can do that is I think by believing that they are not full human beings that they’re actually not human beings. And anyone who defied that stereotype became aproblem and how do you deal with people? How do you deal with someone like Toussaint? He was a genius and it’s a complicated thing, but then there were some Jacobins who were prepared to deal as equal and this is one of the reasons that Toussaint abandons the Spanish because ___ is more than an abolitionist. He’€™s convinced that there is ultimately maybe equality between the two but how do you generate the end of slavery? It’s a complicated economic interest, you know, you have to deal with franchise. So it’s problematic but not all abolitionists are the same either.

JP: In thinking about the Haitian Revolution as a critique and counter to some American ideals about freedom or independence, but I wonder if you can talk more about to what extent against challenge about the added component of, you know, the equation of slavery and race in the nominally black country. I wonder if you could speak more about kind of competing dynamics between American freedom and this revolutionary ideals and what was going on in Haiti at the time as a potential critique or alternative to America?

RF: Yeah, well the Haitian Revolution probably is the logical conclusion of a conjuncture of events. First, you have the French Revolution which opens in Saint Domingue the possibility of thinking about abolishing slavery. But you can’t think about abolishing slavery if you don’t have slaves in the process ofrevolting. And that is quite important because I don’t think you needed to tell the slaves that there was the French Revolution and that slavery had to be abolished. I think they knew that. But the French opens up, you know, a window because there is a moment where the French say that slavery should be abandoned and there’s a proclamation in 1794 that is the end of slavery. So it becomes legitimate and the Haitians seize it, the slaves seize that opportunity to violently overthrow slavery. But it’s not a gift of friends of 1789. It’s something that had to be conquered by the slaves themselves, but on the other hand, there’s a conjuncture that allows for that movement to crystallize because if it had not happened, if 1789 that not happened, the Rebellion initiative would have been completely crushed. And its because the French gave that opening that the slaves could seize it and by the time they want to reestablish slaveryunder Napoleon, it’s too late. The slaves are not going [50:00] to put up with it. So in some ways the French Revolution is the ultimate bourgeois liberal revolution. The American Revolution is there’s really the first bourgeois conquest of creation of a nation out of imperialism, the British imperialism. But it’s not a radical break in terms of establishing equality. That Revolution is not about really equality, it’€™s about property. And property means also slavery. The French Revolution is a little bit more radical. And the Haitian revolution is more radical in the sense that race is part that race should not be part of exclusions. So you have but all of those revolutions have their limits. I mean the Haitian Revolution led to old forms of authoritarian leadership. You know Haitians like the Americans they like to think, “Well we created that republic where everyone was equal.” That is nonsensical. It’s really a myth. There is no equality in Haiti, there’s no equality in the United States, and clearly there is no equality in France either. It’s really the kind of stuff that you invent in some ways to build a nation. You create something that becomes a very powerful myth. But it is not reality, but it doesn’t matter that it’s not reality because even the people who are within that community believe in the myth, even if they are not equal, but they believe in it. I mean, I’m always puzzled when I said “How can you say that, you know, you had equality? Five percent of the people who voted and then you had slavery, women were excluded, a lot of white men were excluded, the vast majority of the population was excluded from power. How can you talk about democracy? Makes no sense. Same thing in France, Napoleon is restored and it’s over. In Haiti, you have that revolution but the former slaves, they are forced into course labor. They have to escape again that thing. And the leaders of messianic authoritarian figures. There is no equality there. But those are very powerful things that I think people transmit from one generation to the other in terms of educational systems, etc, etc. And then you come to believe in it. And if you say no then people look at you as if you must be crazy. But the reality is that those myths are just that. They are myths. Important to create a nation but nonetheless the idea that those revolutions generated what you learn in the books is nonsensical.

JP: Yeah. I wonder it’s™ suggested that Jefferson in really important ways this project is about Jefferson and his broader implications so I wonder if you could briefly reflect about this particular history?

RF: Well, it’s, I have an enigma actually. I arrived here in 1981 and I went to a lecture Jefferson and there was, I forget his name, he was at the time the biographer of Jefferson. What’s his name?

DM: Dumas Malone?

RF: Exactly, and I’m listening to him and I’m just an assistant professor, but he was saying all kinds of things that wouldn’€™t even add up, some of them true. But then someone asked him the question would Jefferson have a relation with a slave? He said no because he was a man of honor. So, I was so puzzled. I wasn’t even angry because to me that made no sense. I mean coming from Haiti, I’m a descendent of precisely that very kind of union between you know, slave owners and slaves. So, how can you say that? I literally said, “how can you say that that didn’t happen?” Slaves were objects. So if the master wanted that object for his sexual satisfaction that was that! It was not a moral question even for because it was an object. And he looked at me really like this man is crazy. And he didn’t answer it. They said well Jefferson was an honorable man so that told me that it was a very bizarre story and then eventually we realized that through scientific things obviously what was obvious to me started to become obvious to many people.

JP: But that also tells you something about the States. So, was that your first experience in the States or?

RF: No, in that setting about Jefferson and because I never really thought about the matter because coming from Haiti, we knew that slaves had relations, sexual relations with the slave owners. I mean, this was taken, it was not even an object of discussion. It was part of the reality of slavery. So, to tell me that didn’t happen made no sense. I could not, and I think it’s part of the mythical vision that people came to accept, even people who studied and they denied it. Even when you see it black and white, you’re going to deny it. And for a long time they denied it and even people with the DNA, some people still deny it.

DM: Oh you know, I was at uh, it wasn’t Monticello but the building down the hill. I’m not going to remember the exact name of that building but it’s where a lot of the educational programming comes out of pertaining to Monticello. And so it was at that that place where the avuncular Dr. Foster first revealed what were ultimately modest conclusions in the scientific sense and I sat in the room. It was a Sunday afternoon. Maybe I’d say 40-50 people were there, half of them journalists and the Dr. Foster said if the man alleged to be Jefferson’s father was his father, then science can verify that Jefferson fathered at least one of Sally Hemings’s€™ children. So it’s a very modest proposition. He is letting the scientific data, he’s letting the DNA lead him where he needs to go. He isn’t even claiming that he’s the father of all the children. I found it utterly really fascinating that there were people in that room who were really prepared to suggest “Well, maybe the man who was said to be Jefferson’s father wasn’t his father. Maybe Jefferson’s mother was over here cavorting and carrying on.” That it was so utterly unthinkable that the honorable Thomas Jefferson could have fathered children with a slave woman despite what, as you say, despite what we know this is completely ordinary in the period in which Jefferson lived. But people were better prepared to suggest or to speculate that perhaps Jefferson’s father was not his father in order to deny that he could have fathered children with Sally Hemings and the whole question of honor, and the whole question of basically when you talk about the the mythologization of democracy, the mythologization of Jefferson is as this person who because he is associated with the Enlightenment, because he is associated with the egalitarianism, because he is associated with the idea of independence and democracy, that everything else that follows from that, including in his personal life, is logically consistent with all of that and it is not. It is absolutely not. And that that is ideological. That has to do, because if you can imagine that Thomas Jefferson not only had sexual relations with Sally Hemings, that is not hard to imagine, because Jefferson was a slaveholder and she was his property. So if you have trouble imagining that though let’s say Jefferson may have had sexual relationships with her, but hecould not have been emotionally connected to her, then you can reinforce this age old fiction or reinforce this age old idea that these people who were being held captive are less than human because if they are less than human than they are outside the domain of all those things that make us human including the capacity to love. And so this is the thing that is so unimaginable that Jefferson could actually love a person who was his property because if Jefferson could love a person who was his property, then Jefferson could regard her as something other than a sexual object, that she could be something else for him and it is that something else that people find unimaginable and they find it unimaginable whether they are die hard Jeffersonians or whether they are die hard supporters of Sally Hemings. It’s something on both sides of this ideological divide that makes it unthinkable, alright? Unimaginable that anything could have obtained between a slaveholder and his property. Anything that could have could have obtained that would even get us close to thinking about an emotional connection that it could only be physical even if we imagine that he did this thing, physical, as an honorable man. Well if he could do that, that’s all he was doing. That is all he was doing. He could not have cared for her. It was Garry Wills in the great debate after the DNA findings who said well, okay. So let’s imagine that Jefferson did sleep with her. Let us imagine that he had sex with her with some frequency, but he could not love her. He did not love her. I think so, how do you know that Garry Wills? We don’t know what obtained between these two people that much of what people say about that relationship is highly speculative.

RF: No, we can’€™t know.

DM: We really simply don’t know and so if we consider that we can’t know, then why are people so invested in reproducing a narrative that says there could not have been anything that obtained between these two people that would lead us to the conclusion that to him, she was human and to her, he was human. Even though he was her slave owner. So these complications about emotional connections I find so so deeply fascinating that no side can imagine that we can talk about, which may kind of bring our… return us through the initial the launch of the conversation. that this contemporary exhibition wants to invoke the terminology of rape, right? Because it wants to invoke the terminology of rape as some means of vindicating Sally Hemings. That Sally Hemings was simply an object, Sally Hemings was simply a victim, that it is a refusal that Sally Hemings could have been engaged in that which many women were engaged in in the institution of slavery. If we only want to talk about it as being expedient, if I have a relationship of whatever kind with the person who owns me, then I may have some leverage here.

RF: Yeah, there is agency.

DM: Yeah, there is leverage, there is agency, and we clearly have precedents for this. The same people who teach say for example, The Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl where Harriet Jacobs whose genealogy and biography has been documented has been traced to South Carolina that when she is saying, “I consider it the better part of freedom and Independence to be able to choose the person with whom I will enter into a sexual relationship.” So, rather than submit to the unwanted advances of the person who owns her, she does submit to another white man. Why does she submit to another white man? Because she says this is her choice. This is her choice. And I think Robert, Walter Johnson rather has given us all kinds of reasons to complicate the idea of the agency of enslaved people. But even given that, I think however tentative we have to be able to suggest that even under conditions of enslavement, there may not have been agency in the term that the law recognizes agency, right? But there is in the minds of some of these people, agency nonetheless. So these are as you say very very complicated relationships very complicated entanglements and I don’t think we do ourselves any good to remain locked in these ideological positions that make the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings so neat and bifurcated as owner to property, as slaveholder to slave, as dominator to victim, that there is a lot more nuance.

RF: There are negotiations going on.

DM: There are negotiations and we have to believe, when I talk to my students all the time, “€œWell, he had all the power.”€ I go “€œin what relationship have you ever known, can you think of any relationship in which there are not power asymmetries?”€ I submit to you that if you are the parent of a newborn baby and at three o’clock in the morning that baby won’t stop screaming and you have to get up out of your bed and walk the floor with that baby, that baby has in these moments some power over you, your movements, your choices, your sleep. So if we then suggest that power asymmetries in that relationship render it an impossibility, then we’re saying no relationships are possible even in the most loving relationships there are power asymmetries. And so I think that it again it is this investment in ideology, it is investment in particular positions about race, on all sides of the divide where as long as we can see Jefferson as ipso facto a person who dominated and raped Sally Hemings, then there is no other discussion we need to have, right? That he then allows us to condemn this god-awful institution. We can condemn this god-awful institution while at the same time we can leave open the possibility because again, I want to constantly say we don’t know what passed between these people. We simply don’t know. We don’t know everything is speculation. This is not truth. This cannot be verified. There is no archive at least not now. Nothing that we have extant to tell us what happened between these people. Nothing.

RF: the difference though, it must have been a peculiar form of love if it did exist. Because slavery is not just relation of asymmetrical parts. It’s really an absolute relation of differences of power.

DM: Theoretically.

RF: So, the interesting question is if in spite of that, you can have love even if it’s complicated by the existence of slavery. Then that to some extent gives us a lot of hope because slavery is such an awful institution and that you could transcend it in very imperfect ways, but you could transcend it and you could stop loving someone, that indicates the artificiality to some extent of the institution itself because there is a bond of humanity that transcends the most awful institution. So, but, on the other hand that bond slavery can also deform that. When you see people, the separation from their families, white master as a kid and you can’t stay on the plantation he has to be sent somewhere else, and sometimes sent anywhere and other times sent with some money and some protection wherever he goes. So, so, it’s a complicated thing but it’s like any love story.

DM: Like any love story, it’s complicated. That is absolutely the case. And yes, slavery deformed all relationships. By definition it deformed them. So, to me, I’m pretty pretty clear on this. I am also not inclined necessarily to want to talk about say even a love relationship in the terms that we think about love today because love is something that lives in history. Our ideas about love live in history. Romantic love is a recent construct. Romantic love is in the historical spectrum rather new and so I’m not talking about ideas of romantic love. I’m thinking of something that is just much more complex than simply this is the person who owns me and therefore my only emotional response to this person is hate, alright? My only response [1:10:00] to this person is rejection, right? And then that works conversely, alright? This is my property and thus my only relationship to this property is one of exploitation. This is just someone I can say, “Here. Come.” You know Faulkner has this wonderful moment in Go Down Moses, I’ve written about it. In Go Down Moses, in the long novella in that collection called, The Bear, the central character, Ike McCaslin, is in the commissary going over his grandfather’s ledger’s because, this is one thing that I’ve always found so utterly fascinating about slaveholders, the meticulous records they kept. Spent this money for this. So, Ike McCaslin comes across his grandfather having indicated that he gave $1,000 to Eunice, his slave, on the birth of her child. And so Ike is sitting in the commissary with these ledger’s going, “Huh? Must have been love. Must have been some kind of love. Maybe something akin to love?”, I’m paraphrasing here, but I’m not paraphrasing when he gets to the point where he says “just not just some afternoon spittoon, right?” that for my grandfather to have given this woman $1000 upon the birth of her child, right? Something had to obtain between these two people that is far more complex than merely slave owner and slave and that he doesn’t know what it is So it’s, everything is in the realm of the interrogative in that scene in the book must have been, could it have been, it’s all speculative. But he is speculating. Why else? Is the implication. Why else would he have given her $1,000?

JP: I mean with Jefferson, just a brief comment before maybe one final question, is that he was very attentive too to the power of love in the family structures as a way of controlling labor. So, on the plantation he kept families together because it made them a more productive worker unit. And so again to presume that Jefferson is in some ways not able to think about love in a productive sense what it would mean for workers is an important detail that he’s obviously capable of seeing slaves loving one another in terms of family structures and so that relationship to Hemings adds a potential to be involved in that, in some way, as the sort of master, because you know he liked to say he was the father of Monticello or whatever. And so in many ways if he’s this great fatherly leader of this plantation that is ultimately a big family unit. That is some kind of love.

DM: That is such an important point, James. And especially the notion that Jefferson understood that to keep enslaved people together on the same plantation actually facilitated and enabled their work as laborers. Again, it’s a kind of deformed it’s a recognition of love being manipulated for self-interested purposes.

RF: Economic interest.

DM: Yeah, self-interest and economic interest, yeah.

JP: But I wonder, oh sorry.

RF: But the idea of the father is obviously something that is pervasive in the creation of all nations. And it’s not just love but it’s also punishment because the father does both. And in every country you have so far, they are all males and they are all father the founding fathers. Not just the United States. It’s everywhere. You have the founding father and it’s both to inspire love but it’s to inspire fear because the father can punish and he has the authority to punish. So, it is a combination of fear, love, loyalty, the family unit, but obviously the father at the head of the family unit so he can control the family unit. So, it’s a metaphor that is extremely powerful not just on the plantation, but for the nation itself. And in the United States, the founding fathers; Jefferson, Washington, all of them

DM: Madison.

RF: You know, they are both power, love, loyalty and also hierarchy. So, it’s a complicated metaphor.

DM: Absolutely. And I think that’s a really useful way to think and from which to extrapolate an understanding of relationships in general. That we tend to want to think of the father figure, think of the patriarch, and even for that matter, the mother in some one-dimensional way in that these are largely sentimental characterizations, right? But you’re absolutely right It is impossible to talk about a father, particularly a Founding Father, without talking about a person who inspires perhaps more fear than love.

JP: So, we’ve been briefly asking everyone that we’re speaking with if they teach Jefferson and how they might use Jefferson in the classroom?

RF: I don’€™t really teach Jefferson. On the other hand, I’ve learned a lot about Jefferson simply because I’m at the University of Virginia. You cannot escape Jefferson.

DM: Not even if you wanted to.

RF: Yeah, but Jefferson is fascinating because we’ve been talking about him critically, but he’s also in a fundamental way, a genius. I mean the vision that he has is a compelling vision. Now what he does with it is a different matter, but the Declaration of Independence is an extraordinary document and it’s something that anyone reading it should really say, “€œmy goodness those people were really onto something fundamental.” An historical rupture with a certain past. So, that is quite important but where I’m critical is that you read the document and then you take the document as if it didn’€™t exist with the contradictions of the time. It’s as if you abstract it. You know, it’s a beautiful vision, It’s a beautiful commitment, but it’s one that even in its own terms has yet to be accomplished after more than 200 years. But it’s an important document. No one can deny that the Declaration of Independence and the founding of the United States is a massive event and a progressive event in spite of all the deformities of the event. It’s the same thing with the French Revolution of 1789, same thing with the Haitian Revolution. They are really fundamental historical moments but once you say that, you need to look at them critically because they have not fulfilled the promises that they contain. And this is where they have to be taken to task. Not to idealize what has been created because it’s not yet there. It gives you a guide on how you may want to continue but the historical rupture it would be too easy to say, â€œWell, that’s it.” We need to engage those texts, those father figures, if you wish, critically without necessarily saying that they were all evil or they were all self-interested, they are complicated people like any other human being. You look at Toussaint, you know, you look at Jefferson, you look at Washington, you look at Hamilton, you look at Robespierre. I mean those were real historical figures. And clearly there were deformities in the project.The vision may have been compelling but the vision has yet to materialize and this is one of the things that we need to really study, I think, as intellectuals to look at the contradictions of those important figures and those important moments in history.

DM: The contradictions and our investments in really wanting to preserve because that I doubt that there are very few people even at the University who would not freely acknowledge that Jefferson is fraught with contradictions. He is fraught with contradictions as a person, there are deep and explicit contradictions in his work and yet at the same time we keep returning as it were to the I’m not getting the term I want. We keep returning to the idea as if you know, you know Freud talked about the repetition compulsion. And in part of what [1:20:00 ] is underneath the repetition compulsion is you want to keep replaying something, often in relationships, that has not worked because you think okay I’ll try it this way this time and this time I’ll get it right. It’s in part, of course this is a bastardization of a complex theory, but that is it fundamentally the idea of the repetition compulsion. So, I find it interesting that last year the BOV allocated literally millions of dollars to the University, to the College, in particular, for something called the Democracy Project. That’s a lucrative phenomenon for departments and scholars. One department received 2.3 million dollars to do what? I don’t know. But it’s all under the umbrella of the Democracy Project. So, we are still invested despite what we know to be the flaws, despite what weknow to be the imperfections, what we know to be the deformities. It’s as if we will come at it and if we know, if we study, if we look at it from this angle, this angle, this angle, and this angle, perhaps we will get it right. And so I find a deeply ironic that at this moment in the University’s history, We have allocated all this money to study democracy. What are your thoughts about that?

RF: Well, I think it’s cyclical. I mean, you know and it depends on the historical moment because in the 60s you had the same thing with the Cold War. I think in the late 80s, early 1990s you had an explosion about democracy. It was going to flourish everywhere and anywhere. You just needed to send people who could write good liberal constitutions and the trick was done. Or you would need to send what I would call missionaries literally and their vision of democracy was fundamental in American democracy and export it and people should like it, love it because there is nothing better than that. And that’s part also of the American myth. The problem is that American democracy is very unique. It’s a very incomplete form of democracy and the fundamental problem for those we see on the receiving end is that they don’t quite see it the same way because they see it as an imposition and in many ways as full of hypocrisy. That this is in the interest of the United States, we’re going to give you a democracy, but if it doesn’t work, if we like someone, that person is going to be the democrat. People who are opposed to the person we support is automatically anti-democratic and you can see that in what happened in Russia after the Cold War. Initially, it was Yeltsin who was going to be the greatest democrat which was a joke. Then when Putin came in power he was supposed to be that great young man and Bush saying, “€œI’ve looked at him in his eyes and great guy” and now he’s evil, everything he does is evil and the world is much more complicated than that. You can’t impose on a big country like Russia American democracy. That is not going to work. You can’€™t do that even in small countries like Haiti. It’s not going to work because there are too many contradictions. If you don’t like the result of democracy, then it becomes anti-democratic. If someone is elected, was the different vision than that espoused by the United States itcan’€™t be a democracy. It’s a real problem because it’s a very narrow definition of what is democratic. And the election doesn’t make a democracy. And there are so many other issues related to the kind of democracy even in the United States about the level of inequalities, who votes, who has the capacity to actually be a candidate, and who controls the candidates, the amount of money that is spent on any election in the United States now is really so incredibly high that it’€™s difficult to see that as an exercise in real democracy. If you have money, you can probably be elected. You get the money, you get the theads, you control the message etc. So, it’s a very interesting thing that we are talking about democracy. I think it comes because in Europe there is a crisis. I think there is a crisis also in the United States. And that leads to some sort of questioning about whether democracy is sustainable, whatever that means, because it’s not clear what we mean by democracy either but the idea that elections and whomever is elected is legitimate, those things have come under fire now. And we are trying to recover some sort of commitment to democracy because it seems that the population has lost it. And Jefferson talked about democracy so what better thing to do at University of Virginia to go back to Jefferson and try to invent some new thing to have a notion of democracy? But I think it’s a project that is very complicated because it’s a project that is confined, to a large degree, to Americans and their view about democracy. There is no real exchange between different cultures, different parts of the world about what democracy means. When you have elections in many Latin American countries or African countries, even when they are more or less legitimate. We’re not talking about structures of power circus of inequality etc. we are talking about a figurehead who becomes president and who is very dependent on the West, and in many ways in the on the United States and that’s what democracy is in election, but that doesn’t change relations of power. Those things have to be talked about, the question of economic privilege, economic inequality, and obviously the issues about ethnicity, race, gender that are part of an emancipatory kind of project and that is complicated and I don’t know if they’re going to get democracy by going back in history and looking again at the key Western philosophers and extracting from that something new which I don’t thinkyou can get. Or if you’re going to try to have a much more comprehensive view of democracy by talking to so many different intellectual heritages. I mean whether it be in China, in Latin America, in Africa, wherever. We seem to think that democracy is something that only we have in the United States and we can teach it and that’s very problematic.

DM: We can teach it and we can export it despite its own failings here in the United States. And one of the other things I find just really deliciously suggestive is that at the same time that we are mounting this huge overview or exploration of democracy and allowing people to compete for lucrative sums of money in order to pursue these explorations, we are at the same time investing in understanding slavery and understanding our slave past. So, as near as I can tell, these questions of inequality and race and ethnicity don’t seem to be front and center of this whole new democracy project. But race is taken up onthe slavery side of things. So, we have these two pillars certainly central to the former administration of President Sullivan in bridging into the incoming administration with Ryan. Ryan was not the architect of this Democracy Project. But supposedly, it is his administration that is going to be in large part helping to oversee or implemented it. So, democracy, it well, it’s a new, a project very much in its infancy.

RF: Yeah, it may also be I think it it’s also the product, inevitable product of what happened last August that the University was really in the middle of a very nasty historical moment in terms of race, in terms of neo-nazis, in terms of the recognition that slavery was really a significant event in the creation ofAmerican democracy. So, those things came all together and Charlottesville became kind of the center of that maelstrom, if you wish, and I think that led the University to start thinking [1:30:00] about race again, start thinking about slavery, start thinking about democracy. When you have a bunch of neo-nazis walking on the Lawn and to some extent claiming that the Lawn is theirs and that is connected to the heritage of this University, then that creates a problem for the University and the problem has to be dealt with in the beginning of the 21st century, which supposedly was no longer existing. I mean we’re supposed to be in a post-racial society and democracy inside of the United States had already been resolved. So, those problems come back with a vengeance and at the core of the University of Virginia which is Jefferson’s creation. So, issues of democracy, slavery, and race come back and the university has to deal with it. And I think this is why we have so much talk about slavery about talking about race, about healing, etc. because it’s the legacy.

DM: But you know, it’s interesting that in terms of the actual chronology, this project on democracy was underway before August 11th and 12th. It was actually underway beforehand. In fact, some of the first projects were funded in the late fall and early new year, which meant the project had been there and applications had been made in advance, but that does not alter the fact that August 11th forced a crisis about race into our eyes once again. I mean, much like, I don’t know why Freud is on my mind this evening, but you know much like the return of the repressed, because in a way we really have the idea that we’re in a post-racial society. That is something that people thought that they could achieve through verbal fiat. We just keep saying it and it will be so. It will be a reality that we create through the force of repetition. We’re in a post-racial society, we’€™re in a post-racial society. If we say it enough we’™ll believe it. You know, I’m not afraid of the dark, I’m not afraid of the dark, we’re in a post-racial society, we’re in a post-racial society, and yet last summer, it was clear made really abundantly and violently clear that not only are we not in a post-racial society that actually we have trained the very people who have given the lie or the very people who reinforce the point that we are not in a post-racial society. We trained them here.

RF: And you’re right about democracy because I think the issue of democracy came to the fore again after the 1990s because the 1990s were supposed to be the moment when history had ended. As Fukuyama said, where liberal democracy was going was going to be all over the map. And by the end of the 1990s, it’s very clear that that’s not the case and by the mid 2000s, even in Europe, you have really the growth of extreme right-wing groups. And you have now in Italy, in Austria, in Hungary, You have essentially neo-fascist governments who have been elected and I think this generates a crisis of democracy. And there is a fear that this is spreading all over. That liberalism, as it were, is under assault and that the dreams of the 90s entertained by many liberals those dreams have ended. The Brexit is a phenomenon that most liberals can’t stomach and it is something that is interesting because I think it’s part of the problems of globalization. It’s part of the problem of the spread of neoliberalism, which create, you know, a world market but the world market which is so unequal, whether it be in what used to be called the third world or the industrialized world, that people are really fed up with that system, but there is no alternative. The alternative that is provided are neo-fascist alternatives. And there is very little else and whenever you elect a government, it does essentially the same thing where it’s the right, the left so why not vote for the right, the extreme right? Maybe they’ll do something differently? And it’™s the same thing with Brexit. So I think there are losers and I would venture to say the majority of people are losers in the process of globalization. But there is an elite which is very cosmopolitan which believes that it has transcended nationalism, race, class, which is really a myth because when you look at the inequalities that have been created, those things are very much part of the global structure, but there is that vision that, you know, we are cosmopolitan and that’€™s that. And we know that this is not the case because when you look at the crisis with immigration, cosmopolitanism ends at the frontiers.

DM: Or we should say at particular frontiers. It doesn’t end at all the frontiers.

RF: Well in Europe is ending at many frontiers. In the United States, its ending at the Southern frontier and at the same time it’s open to people who have degrees and money. Because you can buy, you literally can buy your visa into any of those countries if you’re a millionaire or if you are you’re educated and they need that particular type of educated individual. So, it’s a very exclusionary form of cosmopolitanism.

DM: Absolutely. at the very time that Donald Trump is decrying birthright citizenship, Apparently people, women are coming in to give birth in his hotels and giving birth to US citizens. If you have money you have money you can do it. And his objection to immigration, as you say, seems to be an objection to immigration at the Southern border of the United States.

RF: People who are not educated and who are poor, he doesn’t want them.

DM: But his wives.€ He never had a wife who wasn’t an immigrant. His mother was an immigrant. So, yeah.

RF: Again the contradictions of

DM: Yeah, yeah. I mean that that just goes, It goes without saying. I suspect James, I don’t know, I think maybe we have exhausted.

JP: We’€™re getting a little off topic.

DM: Yeah. Yeah, that’s alright.

DM: that just another layer of the discussion, you know Haiti as Unthinkable, but Haiti as very thinkable. Haiti is only unthinkable in some kind of Wishful thinking.

RF: Yeah, it’€™s always there.

DM: it’s really always there.

RF: You know, it’€™s like the slaves, you know, they are, that you build walls around them, the architecture of Monticello, They are hidden in order to see them but they’re always there and they’re essential. It’s not that they are unthinkable, they are too thinkable so you want to try to erase them.

DM: Yeah, all too thinkable. and I mean somehow we didn’t really elaborate, but maybe there will be a space If only just briefly in a future conversation to talk about the kind of discourse of disease in humanity. Independence as a disease. The idea of cannibals and pests because.

JP: And the idea of, Jefferson’€™s conversation about degeneracy.

DM: Yeah, exactly.

JP: Or the abolitionist rhetoric of slaves being unable to understand morals and guides. The question of the humanity.

RF: Yeah, they are not quite.

JP: Yeah, the question of their ability to fathom certain things.

DM: Yeah and you know in the U.S. Abolitionist Movement, which was really, had many many layers which included instructing children, you know, School manuals and all and so there would be like these kind of primers with question: “what must the Abolitionist do? Think for the slave.” Because the slave obviously can’€™t think for themselves.

JP: Conversations about schooling and sort of that Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison debate about literacy. Capacities of even slaves advocating for abolition as in some ways unable to claim equal footing and be on the same playing field as white abolitionists.

DM: No, they’re not because that is the reason as I’ve discussed with you lots of times to that is why Garrison and Douglass came to a parting of the ways because Douglass was too educated For Garrison and Douglass Is this kind of rock star on the abolitionist circuit in Garrison wants to contain him. You know, if you keep speaking like this who is going to ever believe that you were a slave, you need restore some of the plantation to your speech. So when Garrison is telling him to restore some of the plantation to his speech, Garrison is actually in the same logic as mrs. Auld Who was the first person who attempted to teach Douglass to read and her husband came in to Find her giving him instructions and he says to her you give her “you give a nigger an inch, he’€™ll take an ell.” I mean this interdiction of literacy, right? Because that’s what Garrison was engaged in. that you, what we need, what AbolitionistMovement needs one thing from you Frederick Douglass and that is for you to mount the podium and at optimal moments remove your shirt, show the scars on your back, you are just a body. For the abolitionist movement., the abolition movement only needs you to tell a story it does not need you to theorize, itdoes not need you to analyze, and you know. And then when Jefferson [Garrison] fled the US and was the rock star in the British Isles, Garrison was completely apoplectic because again Douglass was not playing the role that the abolitionist movement had scripted for him. His role was I was worked in all weathers. I’m barely had enough food to eat.

RF: of your scars on your body.

DM: But to be actually be able to think about, theorize about, and analyze the institution of slavery, you know, in the domestic and world order, No, that’s not what we want you doing and the real blow was when Douglass started his own newspaper. How dare you?

RF: Well it’€™s the same thing in Haiti when the US occupied Haiti in the 1910s and up to 1940, There is a very famous quote by the Secretary of State think it was Jennings, he says, “€œOh dear, niggers speaking French!”

DM: Yes! Right!

RF: that that is unthinkable.

DM: You know, it’s like

RF: That can’t be, I mean, they almost look civilized.

DB: You know and it’s like, you know, the Samuel Johnson because you know, you look at these things operating on, you know, the racial plane, the gender plane, you know, when Johnson is saying I mean “the idea of a woman being a writer, I mean it’s easier to imagine a dancing dog”. And you know, I have continued to maintain people don’t understand why I feel insulted when people say, “€œOh Deborah, “you’re so articulate€” and I go, You know, and people ask “Why are you insulted about that” and I go, “you know, I am, doggone, I am a University Professor. I mean to say that I’m articulate is just like really unremarkable. If I am, if I cannot be articulate as a University Professor, I should hand in my badge, I don’t find this a compliment at all. and I put it in the logic of you know, “€œAh, a black person who can actually get out of simple declarative sentence without falling on her face.”€ Anyway, now, do you think this is something you’d be interested in doing hanging with us, Robert?

RF: Yeah, that’s fine. Yeah, it’€™s interesting!