Mia Bay

JAMES PERLA: The other thing is that there’s a way in which the format, too, you can do a critical analysis of. You know, the idea that we’re supposed to just be voices emanating from a microphone and it’s a little it can be seen as sort of, could be seen as a colonial and right? Yeah, so I think that’s something to keep in mind as well. But yeah, so.

MIA BAY: I started… Just sort of a call and response interview.

DEBORAH MCDOWELL: Yes. You can say that again and I just editorialize. I’ve actually been known to do that in lectures and it’s not good. I mean, it’s completely spontaneous and…

JAMES PERLA: You’re taken with the excitement of the content and the ideas. So the general question and I was explaining that some of the things at least at the beginning might seem sort of basic or elementary, but I think it might help set the context a little bit. But obviously we definitely want to talk about your book and your research in more, in-depth. But I guess maybe just so we have, I can set the levels and what not do you mind maybe just stating your name and institution, and your title for the record? I don’t know if you have it properly, but…

MIA BAY: I’m not sure if I know it. [Laughter]

DEBORAH MCDOWELL: Now you see this I love because this means that you are not completely invested in titles. Which the same can’t be said about most people, most academics I know. Not only would they know the title, they you can tell you chapter and verse. I’m relieved because I don’t know mine either. I keep calling it Griffith and its not Griffith. Its Griffin.

JAMES PERLA: Yeah, I mean it’s a good problem to have right?

MIA BAY: Okay, my name is Mia Bay. I am the Roy F and Jeanette P Nichols Chair of American History at the University of Pennsylvania.

JAMES PERLA: Excellent. Thanks. And so just maybe to get us started with a simple question of who is Sally Hemings?

MIA BAY: Sally Hemings is an enslaved woman who lived in the household of Thomas Jefferson. She and her family originally belonged to Jefferson’s wife who died quite young and she grew up in his household.

JAMES PERLA: Thanks. And so, there’s a, obviously we’re going to talk in this episode about the Hemings controversy, the fact too that Jefferson fathered children with Sally Hemings starting at quite a very early age. So I wonder if you could maybe just help us set the context a bit for how that relationship unfolded.

MIA BAY: Yes, the context for the relationship between or a special kind of relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings was that Thomas Jefferson was working in France for several years. He moved over there with his daughters. And at one point he moved over there with his older daughter at one point. He decided he wanted… Can we start again. I’m trying to…

JAMES PERLA: Oh yeah, no problem. The other thing I should mention is that most of these responses we’ll, we can, we’ll edit and adjust and so, you know, we can circle back to any details that you want to flesh out and more.

MIA BAY: Okay. Alright. So Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson, obviously Sally knew him all of her life, but their relationship changed at some point after Thomas Jefferson moved to France. He was living and working in France with his family and at one point, at one point he brought… I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

JAMES PERLA: He was on a diplomatic, was it? A diplomatic mission?

MIA BAY: It was diplomatic. What I keep, what I keep getting a little confused about is he brought, he brought, he came over with his older daughter and then he brought his younger daughter with Sally. So, I’m sorry.

JAMES PERLA: Oh and James Hemings too was there?

MIA BAY: James I think we’ve already there. Yeah, so Thomas Jefferson and so, I’ll start from the beginning. Again. [laughter]

JAMES PERLA: This is also to, this is, we’re still early in the morning. And I personally, you know, you’re just having your coffee.

MIA BAY: Switching topics from cars to Thomas Jefferson.

DEBORAH MCDOWELL: That requires a kind of agility. Between time and space, [5:00] topic. We know Thomas Jefferson didn’t have a car.

JAMES PERLA: Thats for sure.

DEBORAH MCDOWELL: If he could’ve had one you know he would’ve gone into debt to have one. He would’ve mortaged a few slaves to get a car. Sorry… I know that can’t [laughter] I’m sorry.

JAMES PERLA: He did spend beyond his means that’s, we do know that…

DEBORAH MCDOWELL: My problem is I’m just a giggle box.

JAMES PERLA: It’s good that we’re having fun. It’s not, yeah. Yeah, so, so you, so you were saying it it’s hard to I mean there’s that dynamic of when she officially came to France with him. But with his daughter?

MIA BAY: Yes. So, so Sally Hemings grew up in Thomas Jefferson’s household and at some point their relationship turns into something different. We know it must have started when he was living abroad in France working. He brought Sally over to take care of his youngest daughter. She traveled with Thomas’s youngest daughter over to France. She was about 14 at that age and she lived with the Jefferson family possibly part of the time at the school with Jefferson’s two girls. But certainly in his household for a couple years. And the things we know for sure is that when she returned with the Jefferson family to Virginia she was about 16 years old and she was pregnant and it was a Thomas Jefferson’s child according to the testimony of her son, Madison Hemings.

JAMES PERLA: Yeah, and that’s good because we did want to set up the context for in France. I know some scholars talk about the fact that Hemings could have petitioned for her freedom in some way and I wonder, that’s sort of in the weeds. But I wonder if you maybe want to meditate on that a little bit?

MIA BAY: Yeah, scholars have discussed the possibility that Hemings could have petitioned for her freedom in France and would have been likely to receive it in a French court. There’s some, that’s the way court cases went in France during this period. It’s a sort of challenging idea though, because Sally during her years in France is like 14 years old, 15 years old, maybe crosses into 16. She has left her family behind in Virginia, everyone she knows. She does not speak French. Her brother is in France, but she doesn’t have a lot of personal support or even access to information about how she would go about doing this and of course she may want to return home and see her family. The Hemings family had been living on the Jefferson plantation, you know in Virginia more specifically for generations. So the idea that she would make a new life in France as a free and independent, you know, 16 year old girl may not have been very appealing.

DEBORAH MCDOWELL: Yeah, it may not have been appealing and as you said beyond even the realm of imagination for her. Although our ideas about what it meant to be 16 in the 18th century and what it means to be 18 in contemporary times may vary. But still this is a very young person. No matter if a 16 year old could have been married in that era, this is still a young person. And as you say without the language, without the contacts. I mean, which really continues to bring me to the point of thinking about what are our conceptions of freedom? You know, what is freedom? Is it freedom to be free of this legal designation called slave and be in a foreign land, away from your family, away from anything you know, all the people you love, everything that gives your life meaning? What is freedom?

MIA BAY: Also, I mean especially when people kind of talk about her choices and speak of her as a free agent. I think we also have to remember, she didn’t have any money. She was a slave. She didn’t own even the clothes on her back. So the terms on which she would seek her freedom in France, I mean, to even get a lawyer. Also, how would she support herself? What would be likely to happen to a teenager in Paris with no means of support? All of these things do not strike me as very promising prospects where she would be like, [10:00] “Oh, this will be great. I’ll free myself and do very well.”

DEBORAH MCDOWELL: Right, and I think those questions bespeak in our position on the part of contemporary scholars. I mean, obviously we know a whole lot of anachronistic thinking goes on but barring that, we have been I don’t want to say hostage but I say hostage for want of a better word, to ideas about resistance as an analytic in scholarship across the disciplines for so long that we want to look for and we want to impute to people, in this case Sally Hemings a teenager in France, some more quote unquote revolutionary consciousness, and it’s a deeply problematical set of assumptions in scholarly approaches. And I don’t know that they serve us ultimately. But that’s editorializing.

MIA BAY: But I think that is a good point because I think part of the whole, just what troubles me sometimes about the discussion of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings is sort of the idea that they’re both these kind of free agents operating in a world of kind of choices. Sally Hemings having grown up in a slave community probably never saw herself as a free agent. You know, she, I think she probably saw herself as someone who was a member of a particular community, a particular class and definitely would not be easily moved to kind of imagine herself striking out on her own. She didn’t even know people who did things like that.

JAMES PERLA: And that brings me to a question about a similar kind of view of Hemings as a relatively privileged subject at Monticello because of her connections to Jefferson. I wonder if you want to reflect on to what extent is that appropriate or fair to say?

MIA BAY: Well, I mean that’s always a big issue in thinking about slavery. I mean, there’s sort of this house servant, in sort of, a stereotypical dichotomy between house servants and field hands. But in fact when you look at slavery closely, both of those positions have sort of unique disadvantages and both of them have advantages and it’s not clear to me that it was really better to be one or the other. I mean how servants had better access to things like good food, reasonably comfortable quarters, but they also had very little autonomy, very little time to themselves, very little sort of ability to have their own separate private life. And when you go to Monticello and you walk around there and you kind of see where they kind of live in this basement, you know as opposed to the house where everyone else lives it doesn’t seem it… I mean, it does not seem like they have wonderfully comfortable environments. I mean privilege, relative privilege, is a curious thing. The slaves out on some of the further away plantations. Yes, they might be living in shacks in the forest or in the fields, but they had, they sometimes had more autonomy, more ability to kind of choose their own partners make their own lives, worship, you know, worship in their own way as opposed to going to church with the master and literally not be like, house servants often slept on the floor beside the master’s bed so they would be on hand if, you know, if you know, so it really depends on which life seems more odious to you.

DEBORAH MCDOWELL: It just has continued to baffle me and it’s nothing more than a statement and then after which full stop. But the very irony and paradoxes of talking about privileged slaves, it just, it has just never struck me again as a very productive discussion. What does it mean to be a privileged slave? I mean, that’s oxymoronic.

MIA BAY: Also remember Frederick Douglass, I think he reflects on this in one of his memoirs. He talks about if you get a little privilege as the slave and I think he’s referring to his own situation in Baltimore when he had some freedom to hire himself out. He said it just makes you more discontent. So it’s a very complex question about whether privileged slaves really experienced any of it as a privilege.

DEBORAH MCDOWELL: He certainly talked about the disadvantages of learning to read, you know, the real, the hunger, the thirst or the schemes that he devised in order to get lessons but he [15:00] describes once he learned to read that it was a kind of miserable condition in another sense because the capacity to read, the ability to read, made him more acutely aware of just how far he was removed from the the position of an autonomous liberal subject and so. Yes, he talks about one the the fruits, the joy but also the miseries of knowing enough and learning enough to become constantly more aware of just how much you don’t own property in yourself. Yeah.

JAMES PERLA: Yeah, and in our interviews someone that brought this point to focus was Niya Bates at Monticello. She’s a public historian and directs the Getting Word project there, but she noted James Hemings and I think that’s a, possibly a good example of the fact of his, you know, he speaks French, he is a great chef and then, you know, eventually ends up committing suicide.

MIA BAY: Right, and seems to have been very depressed on and on most of his life. Now, I think I think that’s that’s an example. I mean slavery had many kinds of suffering and certainly there were some like the slaves on Louisiana sugar plantations were having trouble staying alive. Now, you know, the slaves in Jefferson’s household didn’t have trouble staying alive, but that didn’t mean that they were content or felt privileged in their position.

DEBORAH MCDOWELL: And to the extent that these distinctions, house slave, field slave, have actually had a real material legacy in the lives of some black folk. Really giving certain people a sense of entitlement about deciding who is and who is not black based on wherever you fit on either side of that ledger. It’s, that has also been unproductive. I mean to declare someone a house slave is, that’s a term of opprobrium. It’s an insult. In many cases because people want to…

JAMES PERLA: And you’re referring into sort of the legacy of that line.

DEBORAH MCDOWELL: Yes, the legacy. Mainly because, you know, the assumption is always that house slaves were of fairer skin. So the kind of history intergenerationally of colorism in black communities. I mean we’re seeing whiffs of it in the discussions of the Kamala Harris presidential candidacy. I mean that’s neither here nor there but these invidious distinctions that black people end up making themselves to decide who is or is not, who does or does not belong. And who did and who did not experience privilege at the hands of white oppressors. I’ve never found it, even with the realization that there are these distinctions to be drawn and I think people are making some important points to this moment to assume that black people from Africa, from the Caribbean, from the US. I mean that somehow we are all, it’s possible to talk about all of us as some unified group of people is mistaken. That’s true. Even with with an understanding of the distinctions that need to be made. I’m, my point is a simple one that I get impatient with the simple notion about what it would have meant to be a house slave. And as if that automatically meant that you enjoyed a kind of privilege in a set of possibilities and opportunities denied everybody else. It’s never been as nuanced as I would like to see it be but you know. MIA BAY: And also if you look at testimony from people who worked in houses in the WPA narratives and other in slave authored narratives, they say that they found the sort of continual supervision from white owners and white owners children to be, it just sort of drove them crazy particularly when they had, they were working for difficult people who, you know, had bad tempers or, you know, were routinely abusive to them that they really just hated being house servants. And when you hear their experiences, you understand that this cannot have felt like a position of privilege.

DEBORAH MCDOWELL: And particularly for women,[20:00] the sexual vulnerabilities that women face and then that they continue to face in forms, of different forms of domestic servitude in freedom quote-unquote. Yes, it made black women more vulnerable to sexual assault. Richard Wright has this hilarious, he did a group of radio narratives for a very short time. And in one of them, there’s a story about a man who goes to work for his wife, you know dressed as a woman to get money, but to spare her the vulnerability to the owners or the employers’ sexual aggression. And theres a moment when he’s in the bathtub. [Laughter] Yeah, so yeah, it’s yeah. Yeah. No, they did not, scholars haven’t done much with those radio narratives. And there were just a few of them, but they were hilarious and that was one of them. Yeah.

JAMES PERLA: I was gonna say back to the question of possible agency. I want to just briefly return to France and if you can maybe sort of talk a little bit about this alleged deal that was struck. Apparently. Yeah, if you can maybe give a little bit of context on that.

MIA BAY: Well, we know very, well we have a very limited amount of information about Sally and what actually went on between her and Thomas Jefferson, but there is this letter written by her son. Or, he actually, its a report to a newspaper editor where he says that she returned to Virginia with the Jefferson family after making a deal with Thomas Jefferson and that was that her children would be free. She was pregnant when she returns so assumedly this deal was about this particular child and it’s a complicated deal. I mean I can see why she would want some sort of concession in return for coming home. Some people have read this deal as her sort of seeking life as an advantaged slave but it’s not clear that she had a lot of choices in terms of what, you know, what other, what was her option if not making this deal? So, she asked for something and she got it. Presuming this isn’t, also as a person who knows a lot of family stories that are not true, what exactly the deal was, I think, it’s something we’ll never be entirely sure of.

DEBORAH MCDOWELL: And again the vulnerability in that. I mean that has no binding. I mean I guess there’s there is some term in the law. Why did I bring this up? Because I’m not likely to know it but a promissory estoppel where you make a verbal promise.

MIA BAY: But even under the law because Sally Hemings is enslaved there really is no, I mean, she couldn’t testify in court. She couldn’t take him to court. There’s, this is just this is a verbal agreement that he does or he does not have to honor if he doesn’t want to. And one thing that’s very notable to me in terms of the agreement that’s made, the terms are not very generous. I mean these Hemings children end up free but not on particularly generous terms. Harriet Hemings gets put on a stagecoach to Philadelphia with $50, one of them runs away and the others are freed after a long apprenticeship at the end of Jefferson’s life. So, It wasn’t a great deal.

DEBORAH MCDOWELL: You finish my sentences for me because what did it mean to promise anything to a slave who can’t testify in a court of law?

JAMES PERLA: And the fact that James had to train the or like there was all these conditions too that in order to fully be freed. The, you know, James had to essentially train the person to replace him, you know, the all these things and that’s not the descendant but the brother but I think still it’s worth noting that even most of the people that went free were in Jefferson’s will or after his death, right? So, even that, there seems to be a sense of wanting to redeem both Jefferson and Sally Hemings at the same time by saying Sally Hemings [25:00] made an agreement, a verbal agreement and enacted agency in doing that and Jefferson honored that agreement with an enslaved woman. And I think it’s, this is a helpful conversation.

DEBORAH MCDOWELL: Yeah, except they didn’t. You know, I have a question. It’s not here but I’ve always wanted to know this. I know at one level why you would be interested in Thomas Jefferson. You’re an intellectual historian. You know, that makes perfect sense to me. But what else do we have to say about Jefferson?

MIA BAY: Well I got interested in Thomas Jefferson, not really because the whole Sally Hemings thing but because when I was working on my first book, which was on ideas about white people and in nineteenth-century black thoughts and I was reading all these antebellum black newspapers. I came into the project, you know, reading reading historians who were talking about black nationalism, Africa, whatever and then I find them talking about Thomas Jefferson, quoting Thomas Jefferson. He just appears a lot in antebellum black discussions. He’s important because he’s a kind of symbol of American democracy and because also by the like the 1850s or so for all that he is not, you know, he was not an abolitionist and not particularly anti-, consistently anti-slavery. He was much more so than the politicians the 1850s. So black officers would quote a lot of things he said about slavery, “I tremble for my country when I remember that God is just.” Jefferson was part of an earlier generation of founding fathers who were at least at least recognized that slavery was not a democratic institution that it had been a sort of mistake to move forward with it so he became someone who was very important to antebellum black thought as a kind of symbol of America’s promise and failure at the same time.

DEBORAH MCDOWELL: Indeed, indeed. Promise and failure. It has always interested me though beyond the question of slavery and whether we should have gone over, the country should have gone forward with it or not, there is, that Jefferson’s ideas about race people return to. If people teach nothing else here, for example, if no one else teaches anything else in Jefferson here at the University of Virginia, which he founded, they teach Query 14 and people just glom on to Query 14 and not even all of the query but those sections where he’s making these absolutely racist statements and claims that have absolutely no bearing in anything. But he didn’t write very much about race and racial difference. He didn’t in the economy of what he wrote. And yet, for someone who wrote so little, what he did write has had prepossessing power in determining or influencing other people’s thoughts.

MIA BAY: I think there’s a number of reasons for that and one of them not, I mean, he was the he was really the first American to write much of anything and he also set this tone. I mean, during, at the time he wrote Notes on the State of Virginia, you could look to thinkers in the Caribbean, some of European thinkers who would talk about race but, you know, someone like Edward Long it’s just sort of very sort of it’s not particularly scientific. It’s sort of ad hominem stuff about black people being like apes. Whereas Jefferson set this kind of scientific tone. He’s talked about race in the context of this sort of naturalist report on America and its environs and politics and tried to sound very dispassionate very, you know, very kind of like a man of the Enlightenment whose thinking these things through carefully. So all of that, I think, makes it something that’s going to capture people’s imagination something that’s going to be quoted. He’s also obviously a toweringly important figure and he says more than anyone of his generation about race. I mean like George Washington for instance was actually probably better on race and slavery than Thomas Jefferson, but he was famously taciturn. He didn’t say much about it anything. We see, what we can sort of look at what he did. We can’t look at that much about what he says. [30:00] And then Jefferson also talks about race, I think, in Notes on the State of Virginia to resolve the kind of problem that he’s helped set up, which is that if you’re going to create this society founded on the notion that “all men are created equal” and you are going to have slavery you might have to qualify the “all men are created equal” by having suspicions that maybe some men are not created equal.

DEBORAH MCDOWELL: Yes, but the idea of suspicion is is the perfect choice. It’s his choice of words that you know that advance it as a suspicion. But he’s advancing and retreating rhetorically always and at the same time. I mean after he has planted this these ideas, try to wrap them in the authority of science, but it’s as everybody acknowledges is a pseudoscience. There is nothing scientific about these claims. Then he retreats from those positions, but he’s already planted the , I’d advance it then only as a suspicion but it’s also, for me, the most enlightened part of his discussion is the realization that these people are not likely to be able to live together in peace because the people who have been held captive are not going to soon forget what’s been done to them. So all of these boisterous passions, I mean, it may be that once these people are emancipated, they got to go somewhere else because these two groups of people cannot live in harmony. MIA BAY: But on the other hand, he is saying that at a time when they are getting rid of slavery in the Northern states and no race war is breaking out. I mean it’s also, I think of that period’s anti-slavery, which is, and Jefferson. Jefferson is probably the most articulate defender of it. But it’s kind of, I call it anti-slavery, pro-slavery because it’s like, it’s like you say slavery’s bad, but then you talk about how dangerous it would be to free the slaves. You have all these, you know, so it’s sort of this anguished regret over the institution combined with a series of arguments for why it cannot end right now, for why emancipation schemes aren’t feasible, you know, Jefferson is always sort of talking. First, saying something grandly anti-slavery and then coming up with 15 different reasons why it could not come to pass.

JAMES PERLA: And why is that?

MIA BAY: Well, I think he’s way too deeply invested in his life as a slave holder. I mean that’s his job. He doesn’t have really another job. He’s a plantation owner. He’s not the kind of businessman George Washington was. When George Washington decides he’s going to emancipate his slaves, he figures how to out how to do it economically. Kind of figures out what he needs to do, how to phase it in. Jefferson doesn’t have that kind of control over his life or finances at any point in his life. I think it’s also maybe fundamental to his identity in some way and then beyond that, I don’t know how much he cares whether his, you know, whether, I mean, he doesn’t care that much whether the slaves he actually fathers end up free in any meaningful way. I mean, we know that there are other slave owners who send their mixed-race children to Oberlin and make sure they have a life in the North. He does none of that. On some level, he just isn’t that deeply committed to anything more than a kind of rhetorical anti-slavery.

JAMES PERLA: He’s committed to the idea of it.

MIA BAY: Yeah, and I mean, you know as a great theorist of democracy, he sees the inconsistency. He has trouble reconciling. That’s I think one reason why he is so fundamentally kind of illogical on the subject of slavery. And also why he, I mean, Jefferson is not very religious. But when he talks about slavery he can sometimes get religious like, “I tremble for my country when I remember that God is just.” I mean, this is a man who in most, on most other subjects is not like talking to God but slavery he just can’t, you know, can’t make sense of it.

JAMES PERLA: Do you think that was a rhetorical, because I’m always curious about that too about Jefferson and religion. I mean is that rhetorical? Does he know that this will make him seem more sympathetic? Or is he actually invoking a kind of religious like [35:00] inflection? Or is that too hard to parse out?

MIA BAY: I think it’s hard to parse out but on the other hand, I mean keep in mind that for, you know, for other people, religion was, to really think about God being just meant you had to do something. So he may be, I mean, it may be a religious expression from someone who’s fundamentally not all that devout.

DEBORAH MCDOWELL: Maybe you do have to do something and maybe you don’t because certainly in certain forms of Christian practices, God will make a way. So in other words, you can retreat, you can justify or at least to yourself why you can take a more passive approach because there is, the moral arc of the universe is tending toward justice. And so that’s in God saying, God has the world in his hands. So in his own time, he will sort it out and I don’t have to. You know. Just because we got to get to lunch.

JAMES PERLA: And the classes are changing over so that’s always. Yeah, it’s just this actually turns into a sort of dining hall as you’ve seen the students on the ground, it’s quite yeah.

DEBORAH MCDOWELL: I think its one of the most uncivilized aspects of this supposedly genteel university. People eating in the hallways and sitting on the floor.

MIA BAY: Like, come on. They can give him a few benches out there.

DEBORAH MCDOWELL: You know, anyway. I know you’re doing the travel project. But just as this project on Jefferson is always percolating in the back of your mind, who are the black writers in your mind who have written most engagingly about Jefferson.

MIA BAY: About Jefferson? Well, I’m really most interested in the ones in the late 18th century and 19th century and they include people like William Hamilton, David Walker, James Pennington. I think I’m gonna write about Daniel Coker who has his dialogue between a Virginian and an African Minister who I think may, which I think may have been written with Jefferson in mind. So, people, you know, people writing, James McKim Smith, you know, he’s part of their landscape. So he’s someone that they talk about in interesting ways.

DEBORAH MCDOWELL: So, you wouldn’t bring it up to the mid 19th and twentieth…

MIA BAY: Well actually, I have to say that Barack Obama’s invocations of Thomas Jefferson are something that might tempt me to bring it to bring It forward. I do argue or will be arguing in this book in a sort of thing that I’ve begun to draft that there is this very abrupt switch from Thomas Jefferson to Abraham Lincoln as this sort of lodestar in black thought. Both of them are like loved and hated at the same time. But Thomas Jefferson is like all over antebellum era black thought and then after Lincoln’s death, it’s Lincoln. And they’re both the sort of symbol of both the promise and failures of American democracy and sometimes they’re, sometimes they almost blend. I mean in Emancipation Day celebrations, sometimes they sort of start to seem like one person. So, I’m going to follow that a little bit and then maybe bring it up to Barack Obama.

DEBORAH MCDOWELL: Yes. I remember as a child, we always had, in February, was the second Sunday in February called the Lincoln-Douglass Day breakfast. And as a child having to cut out these silhouettes of Douglass and of Lincoln. Yes. Absolutely. And Barack Obama uses those to, I mean, one of his favorite passages certainly in the first administration was beginning with the more perfect union speech. In the appeals in the second inaugural address to the better angels of our nature. So, yes, he finds great rhetorical grist in Jefferson and Lincoln absolutely.

JAMES PERLA: Yeah, one question. I know you, we, you have to get to your lunch but there’s this notion that I guess in our first episode, we’re going to talk about this a little bit, but the idea that Jefferson, you know, is obviously that phrase “he’s a man of his times,” right? But one thing that that I found interesting is that in this conversation, people within Jefferson’s times are critiquing Jefferson [40:00] for the very inconsistencies that we continue to talk about in our times. And so I wonder if you might reflect on that. Particularly black authors, you know, critiquing Jefferson within his times and the kind of limitations of that man of his times argument perhaps.

MIA BAY: Yeah. I mean, I think that I think that black authors probably wouldn’t have said he was so much a man of his times but maybe more symbolic of the the character of his nation, of, you know, that it was all they’re the sort of promise but the failings. They often spoke of him as someone who had, you know, the vision to have a sort of political vision that would have been a great thing, but this didn’t have the kind of strength to, you know, insist on making it happen, to really argue for it. So it’s… And in that sense he might be a man for all times. I mean, he might be a sort of ongoing symbol. I mean, I think that’s one reason why he comes up so often in Barack Obama. He’s a good ongoing symbol of the both the potential and failures of American democracy.

JAMES PERLA: And so by extension, what should we take from Jefferson? I know in our first conversation you said he’s someone that could do with updating for our times. Which I like just from my nerdy like software update. I’m like do a software update on Jefferson? No, but, you know, what should we take or leave from Jefferson.

MIA BAY: Well, I think we should I mean we should think about his ambitions for kind of universal democracy the way that he wants to have these sort of, I mean, his rhetoric describes democracy in very broad and generous terms. And part of that is maybe because he’s a master rhetorician and he’s speaking at a time when he’s trying to mobilize as many people as possible to support the patriot cause. But then we have to think of that rhetoric as promises that we have to keep. It’s been important rhetoric. A lot of people have employed it, found a place in it. The Declaration of Independence has come up time and time again for different groups who say, who are like, you know, if all men are created equal doesn’t that include us? And it’s actually become a kind of living document where people had sort of pushed their way into it and I think the updating it might be to take it more seriously, take it seriously and take it as a dream that we have to fulfill as opposed to like thinking well, he didn’t actually mean these in these and these people so let’s not worry about them.

DEBORAH MCDOWELL: Ah, yeah. When you said this is a promise we need to keep that just resonated so deeply and then another part of my brain just shot this beam in my, I’m thinking, why am I thinking about Robert Frost? But now, you know, this kind of trite little poem that every school person has to learn, once you said it “and I have miles to go before I sleep and miles to go.” Because we have, as a nation, in the words of that poem, I mean, two roads have always diverged in the wood and we take the one less traveled by. When will we take the one less traveled by? The one thats trotten is the one that denies or retreats from the promise and so, you know, I mean who knew I could use Walking by Woods in a Snowy Eve as a kind of parable of democracy. But it just came to my head then because we, you know, we keep taking the path less traveled, uh-huh. And we take that path and Jefferson clearly perhaps set the template for it in many ways for self-interested reasons. So particular individuals can, did enjoy the fruits of life and liberty and particular individuals can pursue happiness, right? And material advantage. I mean that is what we we’re always up against. No we can let the overwhelming majority languish as long as the few can realize the promises of this dream. But it continues to keep this republic rotten to the core and keep it from advancing to become a democracy. It’s never been a democracy, you know. And when Dennis Childs insisted, “I’m not going to call it a democracy, it is a republic” and is absolutely right [45:00] about that. Yeah. Anyway. Stopping by Woods on a Snow Eve.

JAMES PERLA: An anti-racist reading of…

DEBORAH MCDOWELL: You know, this tried poem I’ve always hated and wondered why people forced it on school children. Anyway… This is… We’re telling everybody before we use anything you say, we’ll send you the clip so you can see that what he’s surrounding it, not just your voice but your voice in the context of… I guess I have one last thing. Some people have said or at least one person said to me recently Sally Hemings was the original, for black women, Sally Hemings was the original founder of the Me Too movement. She was, if there could have been a Me Too movement in the 18th century, she would have been it. And, you know, the cynical and me just kind of nodded benignly, “Hm, let’s think about that.”

MIA BAY: Yeah, I don’t like that formulation. It’s deeply ahistorical and I mean the thing about Sally Hemings. There has been a lot of ink expended trying to put that relationship in some kind of exceptionalist framework. And in terms of modern concepts like the Me Too movement, every servant girl from the 16th century onward, white or black, would be in the Me Too movement if you want to think about it that way. But one thing I found interesting looking at discussions of Thomas Jefferson among the 19th century black thinkers is they’re aware of the Sally Hemings story. Everybody knows them. They don’t think it’s that interesting. They think he’s a slave holder. This is what slaveholders do to young women in their household. It, you know, like it’s not exceptional, it’s not unusual. Possibly it’s not even only Sally. You know, like I mean it’s, so, it’s one thing you have to come to terms with about about slavery is that it is a system that sets up the possibility of the sexual exploitation of young slave women and then it’s very very very common and, you know, that that in general the women are powerless to resist. So they’re not going to be coming and testifying as Me Too people which involves some kind of speaking out. This is sort of a system that works this way.

DEBORAH MCDOWELL: Precisely. I mean It’s even one of my problems with the Me Too movement because it does create or continue this paradigm of exceptionalism. And, you know, when you think about it, at least the people who are on public platforms are people who have privileged access to public platforms with very few exceptions, right? Because there remain women to this very day who are in similar circumstances without access to microphones. And Gloria Allred, “ever at the ready.” I’m thinking, “what is her caseload?”

JAMES PERLA: I mean we interviewed Robert Fatton, Jr. And he had a really funny anecdote about a similar notion of the, this not being exceptional from the perspective of Haiti where, you know, he was essentially saying when he came to the University of Virginia the fact that people didn’t think Jefferson fathered children with Sally Hemings was, you know, inconceivable, but that’s, you know, that’s the whole like that was just that’s just a fact in the in the Haitian context. That’s just the reality. And so just the final sort of note on those possibly anachronistic readings of this relationship. Using the term, because I think it’s under, you know, implicit in this conversation about the Me Too, but to what extent is it appropriate to use the term rape to discuss Jefferson and Hemings?

DEBORAH MCDOWELL: I think we did, did we ask you that earlier?

MIA BAY: That one’s so hard because maybe because we don’t I mean rape is a modern word in a certain way. It certainly, I mean, it’s a word that nowadays has meaning in criminal courts and everything [50:00] I know about relationships and households in the colonial era is that you know where there was hierarchy, men were able to take advantage of young women who were servants or slaves and women could try to get out of it, but they didn’t have any kind of recourse. So there are possibly more accurate or less anachronistic ways to talk about something so systematic. I mean it’s sexual exploitation, non-consensual intercourse are sort of rife with domestic slavery around the world. You know, and now I don’t want to deny anyone’s experience of non-consent by saying don’t call it rape, but maybe we need to also think about it somehow differently or in more complicated ways.

DEBORAH MCDOWELL: Much more complicated ways. I think that what has always been missing, I had this conversation with you, I think, Mia at my house with you were here that summer but you know, we have so little access or no access to people’s interior lives. We don’t know what they thought, we don’t know what they felt. And so we are then forced onto or we think that our only recourse then is to employ the terminologies by which we understand circumstances that are remote or vaguely similar. Whether it makes sense or not. I find one of the great vacuums in discussing this period and that relationship is precisely this inaccessibility to what Sally Hemings thought, what Sally Hemings felt, including what she thought and felt about Jefferson. All right? It’s like when people… Women in domestic abuse situations today, well “why didn’t she leave?” You know, we really, that layer, that layer of psychology and emotion. And we don’t have access to any of that and how it might be informing quote unquote choices. We both want to acknowledge that choice as a concept in this context is also anachronistic or it certainly makes no sense. But do we want to say we evacuate any understanding of choice and agency? I mean, these are the perennial conundrums. And so I did, we just have to sit with them and live with them. I’m reminded of a passage in Corregidora, Gayl Jones’ novel, where the great grandmother who has been enslaved in Brazil and whether consensual or non-consensual relationship with this slave owner. The granddaughter years later says, “Well, what did you feel about Corregidora, the slaveholder?” And she says, “What I was taught to feel.” You know, and I have always found that utterly fascinating and really capturing the complexities at some level that this is a novel, that it was what I was taught to feel. So nothing else for me. I don’t know if there’s anything else.

JAMES PERLA: Thank you so much for your time. I mean, this has been a wonderful visit on the whole and I hope yeah, we’ll keep you up to date about the series. I think, you know, this has been a great conversation and really looking forward to…

DEBORAH MCDOWELL: We grab people in. Folks say… Come to Woodson! In fact, that guy Ramsey called yesterday, he says okay, Deborah, what else do you want me to do? MIA BAY: He’s on to you!

DEBORAH MCDOWELL: I said everybodys on to me. Remember Dennis said, one time, he said “I’m here because if Deborah calls you, you have to come. And she always wants you to do something in addition to that for what she called for.” Anyway. When you eot smart, when you have smart people around you, you guys you know, really that’s I know she’s gonna say something else and we didn’t have ideal recording circumstances in the summer. So although in what we, where we have used you it’s reasonably clear but this will be clearer.

MIA BAY: All right.

JAMES PERLA: Yeah, so I appreciate your time and hopefully [54:54] that gives you enough time to get to lunch.

Sonya Clark

Clark – You know and I have no idea what you’re going to ask me about. I hope you’re not know.

Perla – Oh.

Clark  – There’s turn me into historian because I’m not an historian.

Perla – No, no. No, we yeah, really just want you to sort of talk about your piece and Inspirations for it and really just meditate on some of the themes that you brought out.

Perla – So it’s not nothing super. Gotcha journalism or anything to to investigative. It’s really just been and free-flowing conversation.

Clark – Say let’s see, let’s see. I think I’m trying to pull up as not opening trying to pull up this PowerPoint. Ah ha cuz I have notes on my PowerPoint.

Perla – Oh wonderful.

Clark – Track for what the last time I talked about this piece.

Perla – Sure. Sure.

Clark  – Thoughtful and articulate and I’ll see if I can attempt to do that again.

Perla – Yeah, I know, I understand.  

Clark  – They’re none of them just came up.

Hmm interesting.  Interesting. Okay. [1:00] Well, why don’t we go ahead and get started and I’ll just.

Perla – Sure. Yeah, we keep looking around. Yeah, so I guess now it’s a good time to introduce you to my colleague Here Deborah McDowell and we actually had the great good fortune of going down to see your piece at The Institute for Contemporary Art a few weeks ago in Richmond.

And so Deborah McDowell is the director of the Woodson Institute here at UVA. And yeah, we’re just so so glad that you could make the time to speak with us.

Clark  – Yeah, it’s my pleasure. Hi Deborah.

McDowell – Hello. I hope your weathering this ring this dampness.

Clark  – Yeah. Yeah. It’s it’s definitely, it’s definitely odd weather.

Yeah, you know, normally this time I’m in DC and normally this time of year, it’s still hotter than hell but I’ve actually had to put a sweater on and

McDowell – I know [2:00] I know and it’s the kind of weather when I most want to sleep.

Clark  – Yeah, it feels like four o’clock all day.

McDowell – Yes indeed indeed where we thank you for making the time for us and as James said this isn’t about any gotcha journalism, but we were quite intrigued by your piece in the exhibition.

In fact it and the grouping of the lynching costumes provoke the most discussion. We were there with a colleague and we just continued to think about and meditate on your piece and especially the bricks the so you made each Brick by hand?

Clark  – So yes, so the piece was fabricated. So the bricks were wet bricks that [3:00] were then hand-molded so that they could be stamped with the Declaration of Independence as you saw and and also on the Verso.

So on the back of each stamp and on the back of each brick, stamped with a kind of Maker’s Mark drawing from the kinds of Maker’s Marks that were used in the Roman Empire.

McDowell – Why that connection?

Clark   Oh, so that connection is kind of straightforward one. I spent a lot of time going back and forth in the past 12 years to Italy and.

I’m going to realize that there is a way in which people hold up the Roman Empire as being this great Empire and that Empire and I would also say America’s empire were built on the back [4:00] of slavery.

McDowell – Yes.

Clark  – And so while we hold up this empire, this pinnacles of culture to realize that.

Paradoxically while these are please. These are systems that were holding up. What they were built on was the the taking advantage of others treating other human beings as less than human and America swallowed that same Legacy whole so the parallel is there this idea of nation building. Empire building as America was looking to who it wanted to model itself after it one of the one of the places that it looked to was ancient Rome and here we are still with the legacy and the continuation of that legacy of a nation that lives in this paradox between liberty and enslavement [5:00].

McDowell – Well,

Perla – and in the piece also riffs on that sort of spqr. I mean the stamp itself has that, you know at what word is etched into I wonder if you can even just maybe describe the piece perhaps for someone who might not have seen it before.

Clark Oh certainly right we’re on video. So so the piece is imagine a little brick wall.

Everybody has a sense about about how big a brick is so that’s easy to imagine. This brick wall is 13 rows of bricks high and instead of mortar what is in between each of the bricks is African American hair that has been gathered from Richmond salons, African-American salons in Richmond. On the front of each brick there is on each brick is a word from [6:00] the Declaration of Independence stamped in and stamped in a kind of script that is to be reminiscent of the handwritten version of The Declaration of Independence. On the back of each brick is something that looks like a crescent with a word that might not be familiar to people also stamped within that crescent.

So it’s a little complicated for me to describe the the why I picked this maker’s mark crescent and if people are not familiar with them ancient Roman bricks often would have these crescent marks on them stamped on the back and on it. Once that one part of the crescent would have the name of the person who owned the land where the clay was being gathered and then there would be [7:00] a sort of an internal ring and it would have the name of the slave owner and sometimes in on the third it made an innermost ring of this crescent, you might have the name of the enslaved person.

So riffing off of that. So we’ve learned a lot about ancient Rome and entered Rome and the the institution of slavery through these questions and answers one of the few places where you actually see the hand and a name in sometimes of the intellect person.

One of the connections between between a much more straightforward connection between the idea of slavery in Italy and ancient Rome and the Americas and the United States of America and the Caribbean is that slavery can persist even in our language. [8:00]

So the stamp that I put on the back of each of these bricks is a crescent shape, but that Crescent gets sort of reconfigured into an afro. So it looks like a stylized afro like a you know, Angela Davis afro. And within the hair portion of that after within the afro itself is the Italian word, Schiavo.

Now, I’m going to spell that word for your listeners. It’s schiavo now in in Italian that’s pronounced. Schiavo. So the ch makes it sort of k sound right, but if we were in let’s say we were in Venice. So Northern Italy the Venetian accent softens it so it’s shiavo right instead of schiavo. [9:00]

Shiavo right and shiavo turns into the word. Ciao. The greeting Hello. Goodbye. Ciao, everybody knows what ciao means, you know, ciao. Well the word schiavo means slave.  So when we are greeting each other by saying hello, and goodbye. Ciao. We’re actually saying I’m in your service. I’m your slave.

And that is one of those places where we see the slippage between the legacy of slavery on our very tongues.  As well as embedded in the edifice and the mortar, which is the name of the piece of the foundations of this nation.  

McDowell – So why edifice and mortar? Why not the more customary brick and mortar. And I should interrupt and say that there will be moments in our conversation when [10:00] I will ask seemingly obvious questions to you such as why the Roman connection but this is mainly for the purposes of viewers who may not be as steeped in this history as you are.

Clark Oh, yeah. No worries. No worries, of course, of course. So brick and mortar while the pieces obviously made out of bricks. So to say brick and mortar would be a little bit on the nose for me. But edifice refers to something that might be made out of bricks, but the word edifice not only refers to a building specifically really large scale building, but also the notion of a complex system of beliefs and so, you know, I was actually going to the dictionary definition though because edifice means both a complex system of beliefs and a large and imposing building. Like how did we [11:00] build the structure? How did we build the edifice of the Uniteds, what has come to be the United States of America?

And how the Declaration of Independence was part of building that system of beliefs we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal. So therein lies the paradox that all men are created equal.  Well, not all men even when that was written.

And the paradox is right there. So that edifice that structure was already built on a fault to pull the notion. So that’s why the word edifice and then of course the mortar points the viewer to well, what is the mortar? What is holding these bricks together and then they come to see that it’s made out of hair like the hair that I grow.

African American hair, hair of clearly from someone from the African continent or who has relatives and legacy [12:00] from the African continent. And in fact it is, in a great part the enslaved, enslaved people of African descent that built this nation, built many of the buildings that we hold dear and true. You know, I think about Thomas Jefferson and when people go to Monticello before it sort of is reconfigured itself.

There was this notion of here was this great man in our history and he lived in this great. Beautiful land all by himself as if that land wasn’t being worked by all these enslaved Africans and most liked African Americans. So it’s to point to the mortar what’s holding this edifice a system of beliefs the structure together.

Perla – Yeah, and and part of that is are also the words right? And so thinking of Jefferson as someone whose words are very much kind [13:00] of etched into our national psyche as well. I wonder if you could maybe speak about that a bit and maybe even what was the process I guess of you know, I’m picturing and this might not be fair but picturing, you know making these bricks.

Perla – You know by hand where it’s sort of like you’re almost rebuilding word-by-word the words of that document if that makes sense, and I don’t know if thinking about Jefferson sort of in that more granular way step-by-step versus the kind of composite edifice that we have right now. I wonder if you could maybe talk a little bit about that.

Sonya – I have to say you know, if I’m honest I wasn’t specifically thinking about Jefferson but the Founding Fathers as a whole, you know, and you know that notion of how they’re held in high esteem, but always in this complexity of knowing that the wealth of this nation was built on enslavement of other people chattel slavery and [14:00] knowing that Richmond, Virginia was one of those the major slave ports. It was one of Richmond, Virginia’s major industries to just sort of point to all of those things.

You know, I’ve realized that one of the things that I neglected to share with your viewers, as I was I mean, you’re one of the things that I neglected to share with your listeners. Was that the piece is 13 bricks high because it refers to the 13 stripes of the flag and against that brick wall low brick wall is a blue piece of glass and an angle that sits on the bottom left.

So the whole piece from the front looks like a kind of upside down American flag in in abstraction and that blue angled mirror. Reflects the viewer back at themselves. So when you’re thinking we hold these truths to be self-evident, who is [15:00] we that all men are created equal who was all men who was all so do invite people into the piece by seeing themselves reflected.

And the work and I say that because at some point when I first conceived the work I thought that I might bring people together to help me hand stamp all of the bricks but none of that is what it ended up being that’s not how the piece got made. You know, it’s but it was in part thinking about what it would it mean for the audience themselves to be part of the process of building this edifice.

McDowell- And yet,

Clark  – I’m not sure if I answered your question, but

McDowell – yes, I’m thinking too about edifice, an edifice as a structure and what that what that all suggest generally [16:00] speaking but then I’m reimagining the position of your piece there in the museum space. So it is a portion of a wall. I mean there is something about the peace that is necessarily an unfinished edifice.

We there are no structures supporting it. No adjoining walls. No adjoining brick walls, then thinking about the fact that the wall there is has been constructed Brick by Brick single entity by single entity. And so at the same time that there is a suggestion of sturdiness and foundationalism. There is simultaneously a suggestion of fragility.

Would that be fair to say at least as the piece as your piece suggest itself to [17:00] me? In I find that very intriguing because as much as we know this country stands on this particular ideological Foundation. It stands on the backs and bodies of particular people. There is something about the piece itself that is edifice and mortar that suggests something more fragile.

Clark  – Right. So the. Fragile is I appreciate this reading you know again, there is something sort of diminutive about the piece, you know, because 13 bricks high as not very high again making reference to the flag. That’s why it’s the scale and size that it is it’s based on the size of a brick and knew that I wanted it [18:00] to be 13 bricks High to refer to the 13 stripes of the American flag of the United States of America’s flag.

And. It’s you know, proportionally the size of a flag that you know, so all of that is set. It is diminutive in this way that even as the founding fathers were writing these words on composing these words. There is something inherently and its own undoing and here we are in 2018 still. Still dealing with the legacy of the Injustice that this nation was built on here we are so many years later still dealing with that Legacy.

So if that’s fragility then I would claim. Yes that there is something something in the building that was awry and and you might use the word fragility for that. But certainly [19:00] there’s there’s something again about this Paradox of Injustice that I hope to imply in the piece.

McDowell – Sure. In fact, I might be inclined to take back the term fragility it came first to mine but in substitute for it instability.

Clark Oh, yes. Yes because I like that reading even better.

McDowell – Yes, instability that’s what I was trying to grasp for and fragility came out but it’s more instability and and the ways in which the sturdiness with which or the association’s of sturdiness that attach to bricks and brick-making after we saw your piece for example to interject.

We were having the discussion over dinner about my formative years in the segregated South and what it meant to in terms of one’s own [20:00] class mobility. To graduate from living in a wooden house to living in a brick house in a brick house suggested upward mobility. It’s suggested something more sturdy and yet the very first break subdivision, but subdivision consisting of brick houses was built on a floodplain and so it’s this continual interplay between things suggesting stability formidability and instability all at once.

Clark  – And you know, of course when I when I was thinking about this piece when I was first asked to be included in the Declaration show by Stephanie Smith and and the team at The Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU. The current president was talking about building [21:00] a wall and now there’s so many other things that are being talked about under this administration, but building a wall to keep others out which you know, this is a nation of others.

Well I can claim no First Nations or Native American blood at least that I’m aware of but we’re a nation of outsiders and even that kind of imperialism that formed this nation is is you know curious in this context of building a wall to keep others out or even maybe get those of us who are perceived of as being others that they sort of white supremacist notions to you know, we’re no longer useful no longer useful, you know when we were chattel slaves we were useful.

And when there was land that could be taken from Native Americans that’s you know, a kind of use all of these kinds of histories when we look them squarely in the [22:00] eye are. They’re painful legacies of the United States of America that we continue to not look at squarely and continue to plague us histories of Injustice and histories of inequity.

But again, those are the histories that the nation is built on. So when I’m thinking about this idea of stability and instability. Someone asked me at the exhibition about that blue glass that leans against the wall and I’ve been against this low walled and they weren’t quite understanding the reading as a as a abstracted U.S. Flag.

And what they said was their reading of it was it looks like you’ve got this very this piece of glass like this fragile to use your word Deborah miss this fragile piece of glass that that’s what’s holding up the wall, but glass can’t hold it brick, you know and yet [23:00] it’s the glass that reflects the people back in the work and it is true that we are the ones who are here to challenge those words.

To uphold them the parts that should be upheld and the parts that need to be challenged. It’s our responsibility. In fact, that’s the way that this nation was built is that the people are to push back at the government when the government gets?  off-kilter.

Perla – This conversation is reminding me a few months ago.

We hosted a symposium in honor of Tera Hunter the historians Princeton historian. If I’m not mistaken her her work. It was an anniversary of sorts of to Joy my freedom, which is a book about African American domestic workers in Atlanta and during that Symposium. There was a comment that came out that was talking [24:00] about both the tenuousness of white supremacy, but also the tenuousness of joy and that in some ways joy and the desire to have joy and to live and to have that kind of convivial space of support and resistance that that actually exposes the fact that these structures of white supremacy while important to focus on are ultimately tenuous and fragile and at risk if that kind of makes sense.

And so that just is reminding me. I mean this conversation is reminding me of that that moment during the Symposium and so. I wonder if maybe you could speak briefly about Joy or you know, in some ways this space that it’s you know, you’re collecting hair you say from from places around Richmond barber shops and other salons as you said and so if [25:00] you want, you know to pick up on that thread if anything comes to mind there.

Clark  – So I’m not quite sure if I’m understanding the reference to Joy that you pointed to earlier. I’m not I’m not quite sure if I understand that the maybe you can

Perla – yeah,

Clark  – I think draw that line a little bit more clearly between.

Perla – I think it’s the idea that in a lot of this work and maybe this is another way to get at it is in this work when we focus on figures like Thomas Jefferson or we focus on the structures of white supremacy and readings that try to deconstruct or critique white supremacy.

Sometimes I think we get kind of buried in in the focus of sort of the power of white supremacy to say that this is an all-encompassing structure and that can be sort of it can reinforce its fixity in a certain way and to kind of come at it from another angle to say well [26:00], where are there moments where this is in fact not fixed or where there we can see moments of this being a bit more tenuous or a bit more fragile that through those moment that through those spaces one can can find moments of resistance and alternatives and I think the conversation was around spaces of you know of mutual support and joy and community.

That these these spaces show the the power and the limitations the power of joy in an African American cultural setting but then also the limitations of white supremacy that it’s not just this this thing that is all-encompassing and sort of a permanent fixture or permanent edifice of our of our nation.

Clark  – Well, I’m not well, I hope it’s not permanent, but it has been long lived white supremacy [27:00], I’m talking about now. Now the power of joy can always undo hatred. I do think that that’s true. And since I don’t know the scholars work that you’re referring to I am having a little bit of a hard time jumping onto that but I certainly do know that one of this one of the things that is.

So incredible about about people in this nation who have experienced great Injustice. So not just African Americans or Native Americans or any people of color or people in the lgbtq community. I just. Anybody who has experienced the kind of hatred that does exist palpably in this nation and they counteracted with their joy their voice.

And and I kind of magnitude around those things that I understand. [28:00] So, if that’s what someone was talking about than what the scholars dimension was talking about. Then I certainly understand that but I have to say that that white supremacy has been a thing that has been in this nation for a long time and it is in fact the underpinning structure of this nation so again with this paradox of liberty and slavery.

So what we’re still working on is to hold on to the liberty. And if that liberty means that there’s an investment in the joy for everyone then we can undo eventually the legacy of slavery. So, you know simple questions like when we think about when we think about black men and women or people of color and the way they are treated we are treated by.

By well just [29:00] a police brutality against groups of people who are people of color that you still leave your house. You still laugh with your family you still continue on. It’s, it’s not only an example of joy as an example of fortitude. It’s an example of a kind of resistance to not being hemmed in and and and I one of the things that I love about African American people is our resilience, but we’re also fragile and we get we should be allowed to be fragile too because we’ve been through a lot.

And this nation the legacy and yet when people point to American culture so much of so much of what people point to when I travel far and wide is the music [30:00] is our food is you know things that I associate with African American culture that is really, you know, it’s like hmm this nation couldn’t be what it is without this kind of without our legacy and yet it’s such a problematic paradox again is paradox of liberty and enslavement.

This paradox of how to celebrate with equality how to be equal and this nation. Simply how to be equal in this nation every day all day. Just how to be equal in this nation. The strength it takes to do that is a kind of strength and a [31:00] kind of beauty that is then Cornell West said this that African-American people are perhaps the most loving people on the planet because how else could we survive without a kind of love and fortitude I mean, you know, I may be joy fits in there too as well.

McDowell –  Yes. I think that the discussion attempted to focus on yes the spectrum of black emotion including joy and joy as a resistance response to oppression. There have been Scholars of slavery.

For example whose recent work has turned to, spaces fugitive spaces alternative geographies outside the explicit boundaries of the plantation [32:00]. Those spaces where black people worshipped made music made love Etc. So I think it’s joy, as one of spectrum of emotions available to Black Americans even in the face of centuries-long oppression in this nation.

But I want to ask you as we don’t want to take up the rest of your afternoon, but we’ve been talking about this peculiar American story. In what ways does your Caribbean Heritage inform your work or perhaps you’re not just this work but your work more broadly.

Clark  – Well before there was a United States of America. There was a transatlantic slave trade and that’s what bought and brought my Caribbean my Afro-Caribbean [33:00] relatives here and my Scottish Caribbean relatives to this side of the planet and all of that was British Empire. So the story is very connected. Of course that I happened to be born in the first generation American my parents both immigrated to the United States.

And and became American citizens, but they they’re both now ancestors and but the so many so many parts of that story are similar stories, you know Jamaicans. And the sugar trade Jamaicans and the Indigo trade not so much the cotton trade and if you look at my family my family lives in the United States of America, Jamaica, Trinidad, Scotland, England, and I used to have some family members that lived in Ghana.

You know now there is quite [34:00] a diaspora of us, but but those were the main footholds. For the clock side of my family in the McCarty side of my family too. So this this looking at identity within the context of a global context is something that I think is very much part of my work and the early on I looked a lot at the connections my food, my father’s lineage to Nigeria and specific specifically through the Yoruba culture of Nigeria and Benin in earlier works and I have to admit that living in Richmond Virginia for 12 years made me really think about about the Civil War about chattel slavery and around those histories because I was seeing Confederate flags daily.

And that that changed the work in one way, but I do think that you [35:00] know, I have I have a lot of hope for America. Otherwise, I would have moved somewhere else. And now I do think we’re in a dark place. But in one sense that the dark place that we’re in is also a place where there’s cracks of light and what I mean by that is where people were once sort of passionate passionless about politics.

They are suddenly impassioned because they understand what is at stake, you know, sort of the negative side of American exceptionalism. Everything is not perfect here. This is how imperfect it is. There’s work to be done. How do we do it? And so that that Caribbean heritage is very much about what it means to be an American and being a first-generation American.

I always think about what my parents gave up to come to this nation and it wasn’t easy for my father. He, I [36:00] grew up in Washington DC because he went to Howard to get his medical degree and my mother followed him. After they courted for 10 years across an ocean was not easy for them to get here and to make do and get an education my father paid for his way through school took him a long time. The sacrifices that they made for the my generation and for my relatives that then came up and followed them.

Why are not small sacrifices and so that legacy of the Caribbean is very much deeply rooted in me. Through my parents first and foremost but also to that broader legacy of thinking about it was all the British Empire at some point.

McDowell – Exactly. It was all the British Empire at some point. Is there anything else you’d like to say to us about your work about Thomas Jefferson about the issue of Declaration [37:000] more broadly anything that may come to mind as a kind of partying part of our conversation.

Clark You know, I was thinking about the one of the things that I mentioned this earlier that one of the things I had hoped but it was not possible to do was to have people help me make the bricks so that the piece so that people would say that’s the brick I made, that we made, like that sort of thing, but it couldn’t happen and yet there’s so many people that are there either because the mirror that is part of the piece captured their their faces in a fleeting moment.

So they became part of the piece. I like to think that artwork has the power to absorb all of its viewers and to absorb all of its stories that get attached to it all the readings that get attached to it, but then physically [38:00] in the piece are all of those ancestors, all of that genetic material all of those people who came before us as they are captured in each strand of the hairs of the people that were gathered up from Richmond salons and barbershops.

So there’s a presence of people in the work.  That are holding that work together that are challenging those words and upholding those words, simultaneously. And so that paradox is something that’s really important to me and I just liked it make sure that that’s shared with your audience.

McDowell –  How eloquently put really eloquently put quite beautiful.

Clark  – Thank you. Thank you.

McDowell – Thank you so much.

Clark Well, thank you. Thank you both for your time. Now. I need to get to go back to cleaning my mother’s house [39:00] sending but thank you page.

Perla – Really appreciate you making the time especially this difficult time of viewers and I hope it helped to discuss art and to talk about Big Ideas like this and we really will keep you in the loop about how we use the materials and we’ll definitely keep you up to date as the series progresses, but this is just such a wonderful conversation and we really appreciate you for making the time to speak with us today.

Clark  – You’re welcome, and I appreciate you all too for the work that you’re doing. And thank you for including me in it. So have a good day. Okay. All right until our paths cross and person. Take care now. All right, bye-bye.

Dean Ian Baucom

James Perla: Alright, perfect. So just to test your levels, it’s the first day of the semester. How are you feeling about 2018?

Dean Ian Baucom: I’m excited. I had the chance to welcome all of our first year students yesterday. One of my favorite events of the year. I give them their first formal lecture. So I feel invigorated about their presence and the faculty were gathered. So now lots of work ahead.

Deborah McDowell: In fact, speaking then of addressing the students we had a question about one of your first lectures to the student body as Dean where you talked about or challenged students, you to mentioned to students, we have a quote from that lecture, “Question what you need to question, follow what you need to follow, revolt against what is wrong, fight for what is right, bring all your passions your energies, your convictions, your thoughts, your individual talents, to the history and tradition of this place to conserve it and to make it new.” This is a very powerful statement and quite Jeffersonian. Could you talk a bit about the role of asking difficult questions in a conservative Institution? Or tradition, an institution steeped in tradition?

IB:  I’d be happy to. There was a piece behind that there’s a famous essay by TS Eliot called tradition and the individual talent and I was thinking about that and part of what Elliot is arguing is that any long tradition, he’s talking about a tradition of literature isn’t simply something that is inherited by subsequent generations. Um, but changed by subsequent generations, by the way, they inherit it. Um, but also by what they do that is a departure from it that throws the past into questions so that the moments that follow really need to think about themselves as engaging, wrestling, disagreeing with the past, and in some ways changing the meaning of the past, ideally. This is a place that is grounded in a sense of its traditions, its history, its time steeped. There’s Great Value in that but also places that are deeply aware of their history can sometimes be frozen in their history. can sometimes act as if history is something that we only need to review and not something that we need to contest and so the question that I wanted to ask of students that I hope that I ask of myself is what can you take from this place that will inspire and change you but acknowledging that any great historic place is also broken and is founded on moments of brokeness. And lives still broken and while I didn’t want to say to them these are the three particular challenges to take on, it was an invitation, a request, an exhortation to look around to study their history not just to revel in it and to imagine that their task is not only to learn but to cause the institution to learn something about itself by their being here.

DMcD: So in our present moment, um taken all that you’ve said, what is the responsibility of this institution to challenge that history, to try to alter that history, uh, and if need be to write what can be collectively conceded to be historical wrongs.

IB: I think it’s profound, you know, Debra is you know, there’s an notion that’s important in all of our fields of study something called standpoint epistemologies. And to me what that means is that we know the world abstractly but we have to know it more than abstractly we have to know it from the very particular place where we stand, so where do we stand? You know, we stand in Albemarle County. Um, we stand at a university that reveres its founder and and reveres Jefferson for many reasons that are inspirational, but we stand in a place whose founding was also found in violence, was found in the violence of slavery, was found in the violence of the exclusion of women, was found at the exclusion of any person who wasn’t property owner. And I think we have a particular obligation to those histories. They’re not the only ones but we have to reckon with our past. We have to study it. This is something that [5:00] Carter Woodson has been inspirational for for decades. We’re a knowledge Institution. Uh, we need to research our past. We need to study it. We need to investigate it. We need to question it and if we don’t we can’t be a living institution and we can’t live, um justly with the past that contains multiple injustices and a present that is governed and instructed by multiple injustices. It’s essential to what a university is.

DMcD:  I want to follow up on that. We are an institution like all institutions of Higher Learning in the business of reproducing knowledge. But what would you say to the assertion that at critical moments it is for some institutions simply enough to know. to delve, to create syllabi, to create courses, to invite guest lecturers, and that the knowing becomes a substitute for doing how would you answer that or would you agree with that? You may not.

IB: That’s a really important and complicated question. So I think I’d give two responses because we’re Scholars. Because we study and teach and research I do believe that knowing is a form of doing. I believe in the product of knowledge. And I know I know that I know that we share that and so I don’t I don’t think that those things are by definition opposed.

[Pause because of truck sounds]

JP: The benefit and the downside of having an office in the center of our beautiful grounds.

IB: For growing that we have a structure. So and I know I know that I know that we share that and that we don’t think that those things are opposed, that said, knowledge is also something to act on. We know for instance that the history of this place has been that it has been a, for the vast majority of its history, for the vast majority of its people, a white institution. Knowing the history that enable that, knowing the exclusions that enabled that is not enough. We have to become a different place. We have to become a place where we are a University of black faculty, of queer faculty, faculty who are Muslim and Jewish and Sikh and Buddhists and Hindus. We have to act on that knowledge. We have to know that we are an institution of enormous wealth and privilege in a city in which many of the people who work at the University are not people of enormous wealth and privilege and we have to act to ensure that the conditions of work, of possibility of real inclusion are met it’s not enough to name it. Uh we have to act on it. We know that we are an institution that was founded in its curriculum of study with a privilege and a priority for traditions of thought that are important and meaningful but that flow, have flown primarily from a Euro-American line of understanding. We have to act to ensure that we study the history of the world the cultures of the world in all of their range and then again to kind of return the question of standpoint epistemologies. To raise some of those questions as particularly important to race here. And again the work of the Carter Woodson Institute for years in knowing and acting on histories of Black Culture in the states and around the world is an example to me of the kind of work that we need to do.

DMcD: Thank you. Um, one of the questions that fascinated me or one of the points you made repeatedly when you were a candidate for dean was that this University must be the University of both Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. And the first time I heard you say it I said well look around yourself, feast on your surroundings the sounds, the sights because I suspect that assertion has killed your chances for ever being a dean. And so then you made it from that stage to the next stage to the next stage and then finally having accepted the position to the honeymoon tour where you continued to repeat that and most recently you inserted it [10:00] into a statement on the eve of August 11th and 12th. And so there are many people who have asked me do you know what the dean means by that? I say I think I do but perhaps we should ask the dean himself. So?

IB: I’d be happy to I actually want to begin though by thanking you Deborah. I think I think I was probably in a room with you. Yes, I think it was a meeting of chairs and directors when I was being interviewed where I first said that. You have been a, I mean this, important and inspirational to me and reminding me that this is something that I said and that I’ve said more than once and that words too need to have integrity and words too need to have actions that follow and I think, you know, a question that I want to keep alive in my mind is to what extent have I failed as a Dean? Have I succeeded with colleagues or failed as a Dean in trying to find ways in action to make that statement more true? What I mean by it… a couple of things. It’s an attempt to recognize our Origins. Uh to name and rename Our Moment of founding we talk a lot about our founding and our founder, but we were founded by more than a Founder. We were founded by a community in Liberty and a community in bondage. We were founded and built by people who were enslaved. Sally hemings was there at our beginning. And in some ways it’s a fairly simple attempt to recognize the plurality in the brokenness of that founding. It’s a recognition statement. I try to think of it as a, an attempt to name to whom we belong. Whose are we? Whose children are we? Whose Generations are we? and there’s something very particular about Sally Hemings and the duration of women and men, black women and men, African American women and men to whom we need to belong. There’s something, to me, symbolic about saying Sally Hemings. As a woman whose name, names many who for many years were not allowed to belong this institution. But to whom we belong, Republic. And it’s a statement of aspiration not of who we are yet, but of who we need to be. I think of it as a challenge as much to myself as anyone else. What would it mean to make that true in practice and action and not only in recognition and from that perspective, um, have we yet fully become Sally Hemings University? No, we haven’t. That work isn’t done but that’s how I that’s how I try to think that’s how I try to think of it. And and I will say that when I use those words in the message that I want to send to faculty, part of what was important to me was to put into writing for any audience that might read it that conviction so that I could be held to account.

DMcD:  Thank you for a very thorough, very nuanced star response to that question. And I want to pull one concept from it and that is the power and the necessity of the symbolic. We all recognize how important symbols are. And on our journey as an institution if I could define our stages [15:00] very schematically and for that reason very inadequately, I would say we are now at the phase of renewed symbol making. Symbol making as it attaches to a bid to rectify historical wrongs. Right? And I worry about our being frozen there because however important symbols are by their very nature they stand for things that are connected to rigidity, to fixity especially in the form of monuments, let us say. So as we busy ourselves changing the names of buildings.

I’m reminded of a line and an Alice Walker story where two characters are in conversation and one says to the other, the one posing the question was not from the Southern US, so she says to the other character, “So what happened when the signs came down, when you no longer saw ‘colored waiting room,’ ‘white waiting room,’ ‘colored water fountain,’ ‘white water fountain,’ what happened?” And the other character says, “Nothing.” She says, “What do you mean nothing?” She says “Oh, yes, there were some changes around the fringes but the signs had already done their work.” And I’ve always loved that line. So how do we ensure that we not get stuck in the symbol making, symbol marking phase of change.

IB:  I don’t know that I know. You know?I mean I can I can give you my honest thoughts but I don’t know that I know. One way to know is to actually never stop asking that question. I mean, I’ll try to answer it but but actually recognize that uh to recognize that that symbols are important. Maybe it’s thinking about symbols as a kind of writing. You and I know that the act of writing doesn’t end when the word is written on the page. The act of writing begins when someone begins to read and when they’re changed by what they read and we believe that reading does have the capacity to actually change how we act. If we put up symbols and think that they are the final act, they’re about closing the book, about concluding a reckoning, then the symbols become a kind of writing that is dead and writings got to live. I do think symbols are important. I do think that the built landscape of a place is important. I think that the signs that it gives, the invitations that it makes, the statements about have we thought about who we are? who are you? who gets to read these signs? Who sees what do you see in them? Do you see some kind of reflection of yourself? And I think those are important but they have to be invitations for us then to say well now what is to be done? And the, what is to be done? And what is to be done at a knowledge institution? What is to be done in terms of the courses? We teach in courses we haven’t taught. I really believe in teaching. What have we done in terms not only of a monument that is built but the living bodies who move through a place? Who are we? who is our body politic? does the body politic reflect those sides or does it not and if it doesn’t the sign should be a constant invitation to us that we have, we have failed. We have not yet concluded. We’ll never conclude. They have to be invitations to a program of research and study and scholarship. And, and I think it’s only if we are active readers, critical readers and the way in which reading is always a kind of an act of contestation. Right? It’s understanding and it’s kind of wrestling then we won’t be done. And so I think the signs need to be there because the signs are around us no matter what we’re surrounded by them. [20:00] Right? So we need to we need to add signs, we need complicate signs, we’ve got to, we have to respond and teach and think and act and work, you know as you’ve worked when the stories you told me the story about the young women and men from some of the Charlottesville high schools that you’re working with, the summer students who have conveyed to you that they couldn’t have imagined that this could be their University too. Those students we want, to wish to be our students so that they’re not frozen monuments, that they’re living bodies changing who we are.

DMcD:  Well our time is coming to an end. We wanted we knew we were going to hold to 30 minutes because we know how valuable your time is. But one last question, we plan to start, that could change, the series with a conversation about the fallout to August 11th and 12th. I’m thinking in particular about the shrouding of the statute. In a sense when students shrouded that statue, they were making a statement about transforming traditions and there have been different responses to protecting and not protecting to veiling to unveiling as they wrestled themselves with these with the tradition of this University as it is, it’s Jefferson as the emblem. And so wherever you’d like to take that perhaps given what you just said there are calls as you know for increased diversity at UVA everywhere particularly in the faculty ranks. And so you’ve alluded to that being one way of making change. What is this is long-winded and rambling I apologize. What do you see as the greatest impediments to that and what might need to change in our approach both to hiring faculty and in our approach to diversity in order to achieve diversity? I hope that’s clear because I got to the questions circuitously.

IB: I’ll start with wrestling and then see if I can if I can get there. So one of my favorite biblical stories, yeah is the story of Jacob wrestling.

DMcD: Wrestling with that angel, right?

IB: Wrestling with that angel. And he wrestled all night. Um his hip was thrown out of joint and it hurt and then he had a new name. He had a new name. Um, we’ve gotta wrestle, we’re going to um, we’re going to say and do and need to say and do things. That are going to be experienced as hurtful. And if and if and if we and if that doesn’t happen, then we’re not wrestling. We gotta wrestle and so it’s going to be hard. And in part I want to say that because I don’t have an easy answer, Deborah. It’s not easy. I think one of the impediments that might have stood in our way is a hesitation to wrestle, um, you know, my colleague Bill Chafe historian of civil rights, um who wrote an important book on civil rights and civility and I believe in civil conversation. I believe in all of the parts that we disagree, we contend, we debate, but we’re respectful so in that sense, I believe in civility. But part of Bill’s, as you know part of Bill’s argument, it’s that the insistence on a certain kind of civility can be a way of making people be quiet and not to allow that struggle for civil rights to be realized and so civility is one of these complicated things right that we’ve got to wrestle with. We have to be respectful. We have to be willing to listen and have our minds change but we’re going to we’re going to hurt each other. [25:00] We’re going to wrestle with each other and I think that that might have been an impediment that has stood in the way, right? The discomfort of contending in a certain kind of a common love, right? for something that we care about with each other. I think structure matters. We’ve talked about this. The acts of well-intentioned people are vital but an institution moves on from one generation of person to another and you’ve got to bed in the structure of the institution what matters. We’ve talked about why something like the notion of endowment is important and it’s not just philanthropic. Endowment means to anchor into in inalterably the life of a place, a commitment in the present to the future. I think one of the things that’s really going to take to change just to make sure that as you and colleagues hopefully with me working together move one step at a time that we find the ways to ensure that those steps can’t be walked back. I think frankly something like this podcast series open public, honest conversation. Taking scholarship into the public sphere, demonstrating to a world beyond that in Charlottesville, that we’re willing to talk and be and think difficulty with each other as important. Maybe one last thing can somebody, you know, I’ve talked about before. It’s thinking about the difference between crisis conditions and chronic conditions. August 11th and 12th, that white supremacist attack on a city, at a university, and an idea of who we need to be together was a critical moment. But when crisis repeats time and time and time again then you’re in a chronic condition. Not trying to be after, not trying to be done with, but saying that this is a chronic brokenness and challenge. If we can live that with conviction, I think faculty will want to be here to join an enduring work.

DMcD:  Thank you. I’ll I want to add one thing. Not that I was asked about. I love Jacob wrestling with the angel. But I also like the story of Nehemiah and Nehemiah has many opponents. I’ve come to learn in my life that opposition is the price of favor. And opposition, however difficult it is to confront, it’s typically a sign that you’re doing something right. And so when sanballat and Tobiah and the rest of the naysayers down below keep calling for Nehemiah to come down off the wall he says” I have a job to do, I have a job to do” and at no time does he permit their distractions which then turned into rumors which then turn into lies which then turn into paranoiac speculations to pull him off the wall and I think we have to stay on the wall. We have to stay on the wall.

JP: Wonderful. Well, thank you so much for time. Is there anything else you’d like to say before concluding? I think that was a fantastic conversation. Good, we’ll definitely be keeping stay in touch about the progress as we mentioned, we’ll share whatever clips that we plan to use and be sure to pass them all to you ahead of time.

IB: What do you want me to… I can’t remember, are you going release all at once or sequentially?

DMcD: No, no, sequentially.

JP: Hopefully month by month. We’re actually meeting with the bicentennial fund that’s what is funding this podcast series. We’re meeting with them tomorrow morning and so we’re going to nail down kind of the production and release schedule. The tentative plan was to release month by month, starting in fall, starting this fall possibly mid to late September, but if we speak with the bicentennial and realize that it’s better to release, you know closer together and you know and have more time on the front end to produce then we might go for that one as well. But obviously we want to be sure that we leave ample time for all of our collaborators and the people that we’ve interviewed to be able to review [30:00] the material before releasing.

Yeah. Thank you so much for your time.

[Idle conversation following the interview]


Dennis Childs

JAMES PERLA: Settings but yeah, so this project is for UVA’s Bicentennial and so at the 200-year anniversary were taking this as an opportunity to try to look a little bit more critically at Jefferson’s history and see if there’s a way to push the narrative but we usually talk about in these parts a little bit further to you know to deepen to talk about you.

DEBORAH MCDOWELL: What we don’t want to do well you can imagine. I want to take a very contrarian view. But what we don’t  want to do is just simply reiterate. Well, Jefferson was a hypocrite, you know, what’s with all of this? “All men are created equal” and then he owned slaves, you know, we know all of that. So we want to not necessarily lose sight of that but want to actually see what what are these other things about Jefferson that we don’t know or that people refuse to see. When I presented leading historians–Jeffersonian, basic experts, not just generalist. But Jefferson. People whose careers were devoted to Jefferson. When I presented them with the prison drawings to see if they could help me– because we were doing a major symposium–most of them claimed they never had seen the prison drawings had no comments on the prison drawings. I go: “how can this be?” I’m not even a Jefferson scholar and I have done enough research to uncover these these drawings. So basically we want to widen, deep in the narrative but also introduced aspects of Jefferson that either people don’t know about or refuse to let themselves see.  

DENNIS CHILDS: Well, I can chime in on that and thanks for the opportunity to speak with you all about this, you know, I ran into these aspects of Jefferson’s history and researching my book “Slaves of the State: Black Incarceration from the Chain Gang to the Penitentiary” and the way that I specifically ran into a part of his kind of legacy that you’re talking about that doesn’t get spoken of much is with respect to the exception clause on the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. What many people don’t know is that there were many exception clauses leading up to that one and they were a part of what were called “the black laws” of Northern states and of the Northwest Territory. So 1787 is the Northwest Ordinance and Jefferson was a part of the lead up of writing that. Much of what became the ordinance was based on his own writings with respect to what would become those new states and an exception clause was actually written into that document here’s how it is worded: “there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory otherwise than in punishment of crimes. Whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”  This is nearly the exact language that ended up in the US Constitution and the 1865 13th Amendment. That exception clause is something that was really key for me in tracing what Angela Davis in her work describes as a transition from what she calls “the prison of Slavery to the slavery of prison” and in my work I try to trace what is now called mass incarceration back through its genealogical roots in chattel slavery. And Jefferson is obviously a really key figure in that, you know, he was a slave owner, but also one of the leaders in the U.S. In terms of the philosophical discourse of the Enlightenment. This connection between him at one and the same time being a leader in that liberal modality of thought and philosophy and also a leader in the project of human commodification is something that really was important to me from the very beginning. JP: And so just a clarifying question if you can maybe circle back just slightly to slow down a bit in terms of that Northwest Ordinance you’re describing that this came about through essentially through one of the clauses that were essential to the Civil War

DC: Well that this later when I became the Civil War, yes.  

JP: And so, I wonder if you can just maybe even yeah, it may be in other words maybe circle back to what that means?  

DC: well, I mean what that meant was is that I know that in terms of looking back at his legacy one of the prime ways he’s understood is as a reformer someone who was even though he was a slave master had real philosophical problems with the institution.  I like to think of Jefferson’s white supremacist ideology not as exceptional to his role as reformer or Enlightenment thinker but it actually part and parcel. Instead of seeing those two things as polar opposites, seeing them, the enlightenment or liberal discourse and the original mass incarceration or chattel slavery as mutually constitutive and that cuts against the grain of a lot of treatments of this subject matter either Jefferson was an arch racist or he was this grand liberal Enlightenment thinker. I’d rather see more muddiness there and see the two things as working in interplay. That allows us also to see slavery as rather than a kind of peculiar institution that was exceptional to the narrative of progress in the U.S. as actually fundamental and then we can track what’s Sadiya Hartman then calls “the afterlives of slavery” through something like imprisonment.  The drawings the Dr. McDowell mentioned are incredible number one to see his hand actually forming the architecture, designing the architecture of the original Virginia Penitentiary. When you see him actually doing a kind of design along the lines of a segregationist philosophy with black prisoners being held–black men and black women–being separated from white men and white women. This is something that he knew full well how to do. I mean we have to acknowledge that if he if we want to talk about him and what’s now called the carceral state he knew full well what he was talking about in entering into that domain because he was in fact a kind of prison warden. The reason why black people only represented an infinitesimally small number of those in the southern U.S. who were in prisons– what became prisons in the Walnut Street example or the Auburn system–is that in the South black people where most black people were Africans were they were already imprisoned on what were called plantations.  So to answer your question in terms of the Northwest Ordinance his role as reformer is clear. The Northwest Territory would not have slavery. That’s what I just read and neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist in these new states that which by the way were colonial spaces colonized spaces where indigenous people were being dispossessed of their rightful entitlement to their land and goods and their being. But there was a catch the exception was number one: if you were convicted of a crime you could be put in put into a situation of in reality de facto slavery Number two: there was also a fugitive slave clause written into the Northwest Ordinance or the land ordinance as it was called in 1784 and ultimate that was his what he [Jeferson] penned and then [17]87 what that the actual Northwest Ordinance for those territories that would become modern-day Ohio, Indiana, other states. So the fact that that document can be considered a liberal document .. We’re not going to have slavery in those territories are going to be clean of that stain on our record as in  the nation state itself in formation. Oh, but by the way, we’re also going to allow for the re-enslavement of both free and and already enslaved black person’s through criminalization. This is a legacy that we are living today. And that’s not to say that 1787 and 2018 are exactly the same. But if you look at the Thirteenth Amendment when it was written and the debates in Congress that happened with people like Charles Sumner saying the Senator from Massachusetts saying look, we can’t repeat what Jefferson and others wrote into that original ordinance now because we’re trying to free four million Africans what will happen after this is that a new system of imprisonment will just be a facsimile or a new version or what DuBois called “old wine in new bottles.” What the South will do is come up with a new way to enslave this population. He got beaten down in that debate and then he goes back to Congress in 1866 with an advertisement for the sale of black people like Richard Harris and Harriet Purdy on the steps of the Annapolis County Courthouse for crimes like thieving a half bushel of wheat and the words in the advertisements just like the ones before slavery had been supposedly outlawed were very clear. This person will be sold as a slave by the county sheriff on the courthouse steps at 12 noon. And this is almost two years after abolition. So when we talk about the legacy and we talked about the liberal legacy, the reformatory one, I think that we have to have a complicated or nuanced understanding from the especially from the perspective of those who were his slaves and their progeny of what reform really meant. It’s not to say that emancipation meant nothing but it is also to say again that DuBois line about “old wine in new bottles” or Dr. McDowell “the changing same” in her work. These things are really important to track.  

I mean just if I can: he’s a Jefferson was a student someone that really studied the works of the Italian criminologist Cesare Beccaria. Okay, now I saw in some of the materials having to do with the Bicentennial and the Jefferson part of that the notion will Beccaria was a leading prison reformer. Yes, and this is exactly my point. What exactly was his idea of reform? Well, we’re going to move away from a feudal model of punishment to a more modern post, you know post-feudal, you know, liberal model or Enlightenment philosophy. Okay, but what were his words his words in “On Crimes and Punishments” having to do with this idea:  “if it be said that permanent penal servitude is as grievous as death and therefore as cruel, I reply that if we add up all the unhappy moments of slavery, perhaps it is even more so. But the latter are spread out over an entire life, whereas the former exerts its force at a single moment. What is the what is the point there that they wanted to come up with something more grievous than death. That imprisonment which he equates to state slavery being to quote the Virginia court case that your listeners probably know of Ruffin versus Commonwealth in the late 19th century prisoners were thought of as slaves of the state. This is a very old concept going back to Roman antiquity. So the reform here the Reformatory gesture is one that is actually also a terrorizing gesture when looked at from the perspective of those who were going to be subjected to this regime of penal enslavement.  JP: There’s so much there. I feel like we can even just say all right, that’s it.

DMcD: Yes! I was just about to say: you see me going [nodding]. James is as the recorder… I’m constantly editorializing with my voice and [laughter] since I have to edit  

JP: this is the colonial project of recording, you know, it’s like no we’re just we don’t exist here. There’s just a voice coming out of this.  

DMcD: So I’m about to jump out of my seat because I really want to be saying things

JP: no, that was very, very good.  

DMcD: Yeah, I know know. I’m trying hard not to no.. But again to press on this idea of reform. I mean I’m wanting to… I’m getting too far ahead of ourselves now, but one of the things I want to mention in my opening remarks this afternoon for the panel, it’s the recent report from the Vera Institute, which is called: “Reimagining Prison”, right and James said quite interestingly the other day. It’s not abolishing prison but reimagining so what are the incongruities in even trying to think about reform in the context of prison or reimagining prison, is it possible to reimagine or reform prison?

DC: Well, that’s a that’s a really important question. I mean I reminds me of [Angela] Davis’s book “Are Prisons Obsolete.” We have got to the point in the last 30 to 40 years where the civil imagination cannot conceive of a world without prisons. But if you look at the leader in the country in imprisonment of human beings, which is California over about a hundred and thirty year, 130 year period, between the late 19th century to the mid 20th century, California only build about nine prisons. Okay, then from 1980 to 2000, 30-plus.  So in order to imagine a world without prisons, we don’t actually have to work too hard. I mean it relatively speaking you have a 500% increase in the number of incarcerated people from the time Reagan took office until 2000 and we don’t want to leave Bill Clinton out of that picture. 1994 he past the Crime Bill the strikers that we’re going to talk about later. Don’t don’t leave him off, you don’t let him off the hook at all because the the “truth in sentencing” laws, the criminalizing of youth as adults, all of these things were a part of his regime which incarcerated more than any other previous regime ahead of him. So it’s a real problematic ideologically for people who have been conditioned to think that a society based on incarcerating those who were living basically the predictable outcomes of a society based on gross inequities in terms of access to education, jobs, healthcare. You were speaking earlier with you know, with postdocs and predocs from the Woodson Institute the way in which people with mental illness are criminalized for living again those predictable consequences. You know, the one thing that I like to do in a classroom context but also in my written work is turn that on its head and say well we would be offended were we to hear of a debate on whether reform of the slave plantation was something that could be done or not that we would be that would be shocking to the ear, you know looking back at like Monticello and the slave plantations of old, but I think that hopefully I’ll say in the years, hence, we would be able to look back at the prison industrial complex in the same way. What the prison strikers and this instance and the ones in 2016 and the prison strikers, the hunger strikers the 30,000 people that had the biggest hunger strike in history, or at least U.S. history in 2013 in California make clear is that the conditions are abominable but also the conditions that lead to folks being captured and taken to these places are also abominable.  You have a situation where as you said earlier the prison amounts to a kind of form of human warehousing. But through social conditioning all the infinite number of cop shows and things that are on TV we can take a situation like the super maximum-security prison, for instance: they have these things that are called control units or control units prisons and people are held in indefinite solitary confinement for over 30 plus years. Now you can tell the average person that on the street and they may be horrified by that factoid. But the fact of the matter is that there is a kind of social acceptance of such horrific structures and society. Now going back to Jefferson his idea with the original Virginia prison going off the Walnut model was solitary confinement cells, but the difference was is that the subject that he had as his ideal subject was not just black people. But also white subjects who were unruly or needed to be conditioned into being proper workers or what have you there was an ideal of reform especially vis-à-vis the white subject, but what happened when the prisons in the north started to become more and more populated by black people can also be traced to Jefferson’s Enlightenment and I would also say white supremacist philosophy so Notes on the State of Virginia really important document that talks about the laws of Virginia, but also around that time and the document basically ponders whether black people are human beings of the same species, compares black people to orangutans. He also compares Roman slavery with slavery in the U.S. and he talks about a signal difference. And he says that difference between what would happen to emancipated slaves in the US were to occur and what happened in Roman Antiquity is this: Blackness. And so he says among the Romans Emancipation required but one effort the slave when made free might mix with without staining the blood of his master, but with us a second is necessary unknown to history when freed he must be removed beyond the reach of mixture. This notion of “Negro Removal” or African removal and how that even that reformatory ideal of the solitary confinement cell would be transmuted into something more horrifying than even it was. Charles Dickens talked about it being horrible when it originally happened, but when the subject was thought to be an unreformable subject. So going from a corrective reformatory model–all these places are euphemistically called, you know “Houses of Corrections”  By the 1970s all of that euphemism the clothes were taken off of it. It was made very bold face, even though the names may have stuck the idea was we’re punishing those beyond the possibility of reform. So you get a situation where people like the Angola Three held at a slave plantation modern one in Louisiana the State Penitentiary, held for over 30 and, in case of Harmon Wallace Owen and Albert Woodfox, 40 years in solitary confinement. And there is no notion of a kind of reform of this subject because the idea is that these are expendable persons whose labor is no longer necessary. So it’s not exactly the same as it was in the late 18th century, but we have again the legacy of this strain of thought which is to say that there is a entity among us if it’s the capital “U” who is when their labor is no longer needed–as Jefferson says– needs to be removed beyond the reach of reach of mixture. Now, the colonization schemes didn’t work. But we have an internal colonization scheme that is called the prison industrial complex.

JP: And just quickly, the colonization scheme? Would do you mean by that?  

DC: Well, the Colonization Society of the United States the idea was that once emancipation did occur, the country of Liberia was actually founded upon this principle Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson, and others were very open to the idea of basically the mass removal of the formerly enslaved population because of this notion that this, for them, a kind of horrifying  notion of racial mixing And here in Charlottesville up to the very, you know recent moment with the white supremacist rally and the violence in the streets here and there was just a looked at the newspaper yesterday a piece on racial profiling by the police department here. All of these things find they’re find their genealogical roots in early philosophical systems that cannot be exceptionalized to openly crazy groups such as the KKK we can actually look at Enlightenment thinkers and the fathers of liberal thought Locke and Hobbes and and and Jefferson to find the ideological roots for some of these dynamics that were living out today.

DMcD: Many people I should say some people in the wake of August 11th and 12th in 2017 kept trying to make that point. When certain people, including faculty members, said: “evil has come to our house,” some of us said: “evil is in your house, in your bed.”  Where do you think Kessler and Spencer came from? What made them think that they could do? They are products of this University. So the idea that somehow this is some innocent liberal bastion and that what has just happened is some aberration is willful miss-thinking.

DC: You’re absolutely right and the liberal bastion, you know, in this conversation, the liberal Bastion is actually Inseparable from the white supremacist activity or the violence that the United States as a beacon of liberalism: political liberalism, economic liberalism, is inseparable from the project of colonial genocide against its indigenous inhabitants and what I would argue is also a genocidal campaign against Africans through slavery and its aftermath  

DMcD: This University seems really  practiced at taking concepts like liberalism taking concepts– even before you probably heard about the what turned out to be a journalistic hoax, a young woman… There was a story in “Rolling Stone [Magazine]” about a young woman allegedly gang-raped in a fraternity and it was discovered to be a hoax. But you know, there is much hand-wringing in the aftermath of that. And so, one of our University officials who shall go unnamed said “well, we this is this kind of violent behavior…. We have to get at we have to return to our founding principles of ‘Honor’.” I go: “honor!?” Honor will take you right back to violence that the genealogy of Honor is in violence! Honor is not going to save you.

DC: No, and right here on this University campus– just like campuses like LSU and many others Georgetown which we found out famously– those slavery bones in the cop closet hat will reveal themselves. You can’t have one without the other and then again instead of instead of thinking of them as opposites thinking of liberalism and white supremacy as obverse as two sides of the same coin and you know it I think it’s really important to think in complicated ways. It’s not simply about Jefferson was a racist. No, it’s to really take seriously his thought. But also to look at okay, he’s an Enlightenment thinker, thinks of himself as a scientist. If you look at the section that I just read from earlier and “Notes on the State of Virginia.” I mean, he says shouldn’t we think of the reality that even the color the way in which white people blush as a marker of this difference fixed in nature? No African has ever produced what can be called poetry? I mean  this is passing itself off as a kind of anthropological gaze, which it was. Anthropology being grounded in as we’ve been saying a kind of form of white supremacist ideology and finally saying we may be different species. This is the same person, who I guess was trying to do if you will “field work” on this very subject matter with his own slaves like Sally Hemings, so again the real point here is not to exceptionalize these moments in Jefferson not to exceptionalize what happened in 2017 in Charlottesville, and also not to exceptionalize the South and places south of the Mason-Dixon line. These were debates that were happening in the halls of Congress. As I said earlier and the project of U.S empire as it unfolded under Jefferson and afterwards has always had white supremacist ideology. Again, not the form that we’re familiar with than that makes people feel comfortable. The one that actually implicates the progress narrative the forms of Enlightenment discourse we’ve been talking about, the very foundations of the liberal capitalist nation state are again tethered from the beginning to now to what can be called genocide or practices against people of color specifically indigenous and also black people you think about the early 20th century and what was literally a genocidal campaign against the people of the Philippines and that colonial project. Take it all away to the Vietnam War the killing of it’s estimated four million people in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. By what entity? The liberal democratic kind of spearhead of the globe and you take it to now with Iraq  and Afghanistan and everything that the United States has in terms of culpability for what can be rightfully called crimes against humanity. what are the groundings for these practices? Is the question and I think Jefferson helps us to illuminate that.

DMcD: He absolutely does. Pull out from among the items in your series about not exceptionalizing Jefferson. August 2017. I have met with a lot of resistance from colleagues when I say you all are acting as if this is the end of the world. That when the grand history is written of white supremacy, and it’s violent manifestations, August 11th and 12th, may figure somewhere in there in eight font type in a footnote. I gave a talk back in June. Where I’ve tried to make this point I said, let’s just take the 20th century alone. Where I mean any loss of life in any act of or expression of violent white supremacy should be decried. But we have to look at people literally massacred in the streets. Whole towns of people lying in the street  

DC: I’m from one of those towns, Tulsa.

DMcD: Tulsa figured in! And so, I just gave a litany and at one point I said and I’m only up to 1942. I could spend the rest of my time simply listing these places. So, we need to get real here.

DC: That’s right.

DMcD: And then we need to ask ourselves: why are we then exceptionalizing this moment? What work is that doing for us?  

DC: Yes, that’s right. And I think that feeds right into the conversation. We’re going to have later today about the context of the prison strike in the 17 States that had occurred in because I think that there is real work not only in terms of erasers of history or her story, but also continuing on the project of U.S. empire. So for the population to accede to not only this spectacular forms of violence that we saw on the streets of Charlottesville or back in 21 on the streets of Tulsa, but also the more grinding everyday processes where specifically black people, but you can talk about other people of color and now migrant folks now experiencing this experiencing this on a daily day-to-day basis. The way in which stop-and-frisk for instance works the way in which again, like I said earlier lack of access to jobs to a living wage is something that feeds what is called criminal activity.  George Jackson the really important thinker who happened to be the field marshall of the Black Panthers in the late 60s, 1970s early 1970s and also a prisoner, a political prisoner in places like San Quentin talked about that most of the prisoners that he was encaged with were inside for some form of food getting literally the lack of access to a job that could pay the bills was one of the things that was feeding the prisons. Literally feeding bodies to these facilities that were doing this horrific damage to whole communities. So I think that that’s a really important point that you can’t you know, I tire of the response to moments like in Charlottesville and others that we’ve been talking about where you get someone saying and this is happening in 2017. I can’t believe in 2018 and I was hearing that back in 1994 in the 90s with Rodney King every incident. It’s as if it’s incidental, but it’s not it’s structural  

DMcD: It is not incidental.

DC: Exactly.

DMcD: I want to really tie that question the living wage. Some of us on the faculty have worked for the entirety of our time here in various ways to confront the absence of a living wage for people who work in our midst. UVA will give a standard response that many institutions give. Well we contract out so Aramark… We can’t control. What Aramark…what do you mean you can’t control? You contract out to Aramark your hands are not clean here. And so there is a refusal to acknowledge this very thing here. The outgoing president once said, “well what you’re asking for we already give if you add up the benefits one of which is a two thousand dollar tuition credit.” So we said “can you take a two thousand dollar tuition credit to the landlord? Can you take Kroger?” Can you exactly to the grocery store. That this is insane. Further, I think the hyper-investment on the part of liberal professors or neoliberal professors at this institution that the investment in Confederate monuments–not that that’s not important– the investment in the University’s roots in slavery really eclipses a focus on what the attention that could be granted phenomena like this. It’s not that it’s not but these issues are not centrally a part of the conversation.  We could not get faculty in the English Department, for example, to even sign a petition a few years ago for a living wage could not get them to do it, but it’s very easy to focus on the roots of this institution in slavery. Even when you want to ask them. Why don’t we begin to talk about the University’s investments in private prisons? We can’t see that and thus we don’t want to see that

DC: I think that’s exactly it. It’s the way in which that this is why in my work I try again, that DuBois phrase keeps coming up of “old wine in new bottles”… Challenging the progress narrative. There’s a comfort there’s a comforting myth when we can say that there is a historical borderline where slavery ended and everything. The United States wiped its hands. There’s another one that is really kind of periodizing move. Well, 1965 and the Civil Rights Act. That’s when everything got okay and equal. These moves, these gestures, these grandiose gestures as you talked about: the grand Narrative of emancipation. What they do is they short-circuit the ability to see the connection between then and now and something like the lack of an ability to purchase a home to have land after a lot of it had been stolen. Let’s just say very clear those that were able to acquire land after slavery, a lot of that was stolen through legal maneuvers, there was also the promise of land that was never kept we can go on and on. And to all of those things meanwhile white subjects in the United States were able to lay claim through to indigenous peoples lands through things like the Homestead Act. You have the Federal Housing Administration loans that people got after World War II, the creation of what is called the middle class, and white flight this story recedes from view even under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the way in which there was a Jim Crow legal framework in terms of the way in which the GI Bill and access to those low interest home loans were divvied out.  These stories are really important. But if you can say, oh that stuff that the when we’re studying slavery were only studying something that’s fossilized in history. Then you can remove or try to remove the culpability of the structure itself for the afterlives of chattel slavery of Jim Crow apartheid live through the experience of something like not being able to find a job. I know you read a piece that I just completed on Derek Bell the one of the most important people in what’s called Critical Race Theory a hugely important legal scholar who passed away relatively recently. He and a lot of other thinkers that I’m discussing in my work right now talk about how at one point or another and even James Baldwin writes about this in The Fire Next Time and No Name in the Street that after the the migrations of black people from the South and the demographic shift that happened between World War I and 1970 and you had automation and the plants and the north you had industrialization and the movement of equipment in the southern farms and other places. You also had importation of Labor from other parts of the world. There was this notion that the labor of black people was no longer needed. The creation of what Baldwin and William Patterson and Derek Bell and Barbara Randsby called and James Boggs, Grace Lee Boggs is really important partner in rebellion and radical thought a population of human expendables. But again, if you can treat of these the the predictable outcomes of asymmetries and wealth access, access to healthcare, access to health and education. If you can treat of these things is that the behaviors that are the outcomes of these problems as individual acts of pathological behavior, then you remove the ability to understand the culpability of the nation-state itself of the legal structure of the economic structure.  And I think that what we have in the legacy of Jefferson is a way of getting underneath the myths of progress getting underneath the myths of liberalism and the idea that each individual just has you know, the selfsame individual has rights and entitlements when you look in a complicated way at a figure like him, I think that it can be very instructive for us those of us who are trying to again forward the momentum of something like a living wage. I mean, we know that in the last. 40 or some odd years adjusted for inflation that the minimum wage in the United States of America has gone down by approximately 40% for zero and that’s unconscionable.

DMcD: It is. And meanwhile, it is being touted that well there’s a strong likelihood that Trump could be reelected because of the state of the economy. You cannot get people to talk in nuanced, complex ways about the economy. What do you mean the economy? The economy for whom? All right. When you really and and frankly I happen to know because I most of my family members are wage workers. So I happen to know something concrete about the working conditions of people who are wage workers and the precarity of their jobs, actually the illegal. I’m sure if some of the things that go on in workplaces in contemporary America are probably actionable but people are fearful. My brother worked at Walmart until two years ago. The mere mention the mere innuendo or intimation of any concerns with labor organizing you could get you could lose your job and it and so  

DC: what the language? Right to work?

DMcD: Exactly. Virginia is a “right to work state”? Yeah.

DC: And that that legacy of de-unionization and especially the aspect of it that has to do with the rank and file is really something really really hugely significant and a state like California. I mean, I work at a university system where none of those that are cleaning up after the students and the faculty and the staff people are have union representation. They’re all contracted out and this is really really significant, but then there’s also those who never will see a job at all and what you see in the statistics around the economy doing so well and the rate of jobs versus you know, now versus last year or the year before what there’s a really an important missing element there. Becky Petted in her work talks about this which is if you counted the number of people who are incarcerated in terms of jobs and people employed and unemployment that you see that the statistics are very skewed. In other words, those folks that and those that have been permanently removed from the labor market inclusive of prisoners, then we would see that the precarity in a more clear lens than that you were speaking of.  

DMcD: Absolutely. I want to ask you about you can see how easily I get exercised about these things. I want you to talk a little bit about a project here. We didn’t mention this in advance, but the university just got tons of money from the Mellon Foundation for a project on Democracy. And it’s really very proud as punch of itself for having gotten all this money for the Democracy project in all manner of things, initiatives, lecture series, etc are being planned in the name of the Democracy project. I want you to talk to our listeners about Jefferson and democracy shining a critical lens as you have been throughout this interview on the concept of democracy.  

DC: You know, it’s interesting because we live in a republic. We don’t live in a democracy and that’s that that and Jefferson would have told everyone that’s listening as much and did there is there was a real fear on the part of the so-called founding fathers or founding slave masters of democracy because what that would mean is, you know, if we could take it down to simple pithy language one person one vote. They were not interested in that.  I think that you know that makes me think of the Electoral College when we think of the lack of a one person one vote dynamic and that’s something that came up when Trump lost the popular election. Just like George Bush did at least the first time and we could talk about other shenanigans that were going on in probably the second time too. But if you look at the origins of the Electoral College as one example of the kind of what we were talking about earlier the way in which subtending the  mythos of democracy is the practice of democracy. I f we can allow that the United States presents itself as a democratic regime, even though it’s not it’s a republic that it’s a representative democracy at best if we take it at its word that it’s a democracy what is the product of its Democratic role in both domestically and globally? As you said we could take any date on the almanac starting before its actual inception with the U.S. Revolution as a colonial property of the UK all the way to the present and see the way in which again. There is no way of sliding a piece of paper between the grandiose rhetoric of democracy inclusion or to use the French version fraternite, egalite, liberte… There is no way to slide a piece of paper between that rhetoric and their lived reality of those upon whose labor was the basis for the production of the US as an empire and whose genocide was the condition of possibility for it and still is. The genocide of indigenous people for me and Indigenous radical thinkers and not even radical thinkers people living in the open air prisons that are called reservations. Democracy for these folks means genocide and that is not political hyperbole. It is actually, you know, kind of very clearly thrown into relief. By the facts of their living conditions and what has happened over the process of American Empire building that is not to say that there aren’t great institutions like the University of Virginia built upon that scaffolding, but you can’t have that tower without that scaffolding [laughter]

DMcD: You cannot. You cannot lop off. You can’t remove the scaffolding it is there it is absolutely there. This brings me to a question about higher education more generally because we see the ways in which so much of what you have discussed also plays out in these very universities the demographics of these universities, the structures on which they operate, their investments et cetera. So finding any point of access of your choosing into that question.

DC: Well, my point of access actually goes to the University of California another bastion of the U.S. project of democracy and specifically the campus at UCSD in San Diego. We’re situated at at the border between San Diego and Tijuana, but you would never know it walking around the campus looking at the demographics of the students. We had as of 2010 a 1.3 African-American population 1.3 percent which equated to roughly just over 200 students out of a population of over 30,000. Okay, and this. The reality that led to one of the most heinous performances of white supremacist cultural festivities in California history, which was called “the Compton Cookout” at my university in 2010, which was one of the things that was the basis for the movie [T.V. show] Dear White People. The director talked about the UCSD incident being a part of that and what the students and that example said those among the 200 or so black students who were my students at the time period was that because the university tried to do in a microcosm way what we’ve been talking about this whole conversation, which is to exceptionalize just to be clear a group of white students from a fraternity through a theme party that involved them performing their fantasy of blackness in the form of the most derogatory, stereotypical imagery of black people that they had come up with in their minds which was most horrendous in its attack on black women and I won’t I will spare your listeners the language that came out in this invitation, but you can Google it under Compton Cookout. Now what the what the and I know we’ve seen it everywhere in the United States. This is not an uncommon ritual even Saturday Night Live you spoke of that show that has gone kind of gone down and it’s quality lately. They did skits on this years ago of these kind of racist theme parties, but the idea in California is all that’s something that happens at Auburn or other universities in the south. When this happened the university then tried to re-exceptionalize it by saying well those students were just bad apples, but what my students did our students did was to implicate the university structure itself. They had all taken part as specifically students who were in the black student union in study after study and paper after paper about the climate on campus about the lack of access specifically to black students, but also brown, poor students in general people of color for year after year after year after year that 1.3 percent number they had highlighted in their activism and also their conversations with the university. Look if this is what the university is presenting  itself as this space of diverse thinking this does not match it. And what they did is say you cannot exceptionalzie what happened to those students the university system itself, but also the entire public education system in the United States is culpable. You have like in Chicago when one year under Rahm Emanuel how many how many schools were shut down in one over 50 schools public schools shut down in one year. You have defunding of public education privatization of education. You have the charter school movement, which is a part of that dynamic of finishing off what’s left of that element of the social safety net. And so I think that along with what we were talking about earlier in terms of political economy the political economy of education in the United States and the ideological work that is done to make it seem as if this is okay that students can have a lack of access to education or lack of access to jobs and then turn around and get blamed for trying to make a and this is not to absolve people of responsibility, but it is to put it into proper non comic book context and so it’s really difficult for me as a university professor to live with myself under these circumstances. That’s why I joined with you and trying to hold the the University’s feet to the fire. But also going into the community myself and having myself be seen and and taking responsibility myself for my privilege because I think those of us who are black professors need to step from behind our desks and and come out if you will and make it clear that these conditions are unacceptable.

DMcD: Absolutely, absolutely.  

JP: We’ve taken lots of your time but this is a fantastic conversation. And so I’m saying the free-flowing nature of this that it’s the project not really about Jefferson, but we touch on we touch on it and use that as an excuse to talk about a lot of different things. Yeah, no doubt. Yeah, definitely and the prison is such a good place. I mean, I mean because I think you’re touching on so many of these different topics in which the role of incarceration in people’s lives that’s kind of the central node in which all these tentacles kind of extend. And so it’s not yeah, please

DC: You brought up the centrality of incarceration again, just like slavery for historians of a certain ilk slavery’s the exception. They would like to do the same thing now with the carceral state. Oh, that’s just an exception. Otherwise the U.S. Is this brilliantly functioning democracy. I’ll give you one example right now from San Diego from California. We have in California what is called “the gang database” and as it’s been found that as many as twenty percent of black men in Los Angeles are considered official gang members in Los Angeles right now. And this information has been coming out more and more because in San Diego the District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis a few years back did a Roundup of black people, specifically black men who were who were in this database. And they were charging according to what was called penal penalty penal code, I believe it’s 189.5.  It’s one of the penal codes that was attached to what was called proposition 21 which criminalizes youth as use as adult as young as 14 could be put into adult prisons a part of this penal code and I think I got the number wrong, but your listeners can still look this up. They were able to try and convict people for crimes that they knew full well that the individual did not commit. How did they do this? Guilt by association. If you were in this database and if the area you lived in was under what’s called a gang injunction you could be charged with any crime that somebody in your alleged gang committed. So there were 30 plus men that were rounded up at once and two of them fought this in court and won the others the other 31 took plea deals and are sitting in prisons right now, but as a result of the organizing that the young men that they led after in the aftermath of this and their families led include including Brandon Duncan is one of them what came out of this was an audit run by one of the representatives from San Diego a black representative named Dr. Shirley Weber. And in this audit, it was found that there in this database that’s statewide there are over a hundred babies listed as gang members of less than one year of age. And so they have these criterion where they decide that you’re a gang member including if Dr. McDowell is my family member. And I’m standing in front of her house and her house happens to be in an area that’s considered a part of this gangs activity and I’m a I’m a youth in that and in her family. I can be considered a gang member just for literally standing there. One of the other criterion was and they don’t have to tell any of the individuals when they’re put into this database. This is democracy in action. Okay, the real democracy in action. So the babies. The over 100 babies that were listed officially in this database as gang members were said to have been listed for the criterion which was saying to law enforcement that they are admitting to law enforcement that they were a member of the gang [laughter]

DMcD: Pre-verbal.

JP: Wow.  

DC: Yes. Yes. And so this for me is a symbol of the situation of black brown and poor youth in the United States as a whole and migrant youth as well whereby not only are these processes going on with tax money, you know, we know that as a conservative estimate 70 billion dollars a year is spent on imprisoning people in supposedly the most free and democratic nation on the planet. That these things are going on. But also there is this kind of groupthink or “good German” syndrome. That has taken over the population through the various ideological formations of the media through being bombarded with imagery in the news and in movies and such into accepting something like this happening. And then when they hear these, you know, the gangster baby story there. Oh, that’s horrible. But the fact of the matter is is that story is not again exceptional. It is actually the process whereby many youth and communities in California and throughout the country, Louisiana, Virginia feel that they have more of a chance to end up in a prison cell. Then they do to end up in Dr. McDowell or my classroom. And that’s something that should be unconscionable but somehow it is business as usual.

DMcD: Schools in this in a variety of ways you enter schools even in this sleepy town no longer really sleepy of Charlottesville, but many of the schools you enter as physical entities are protocarceral. There are metal detectors  

DC: And police!

DMcD: I was going to say, police call “resource officers”  

DC: the police department that that is just responsible for the youth of New York City is bigger than most major metropolitan police departments in the country. When I was working there, I saw the effects of this on a daily basis in the streets. And so yes protocarceral and actually just carceral.  

DMcD: Yes. Well, we probably should be winding down but a couple of general questions to about. I hesitate to say where do we go from here? But because it’s one of these overly simplistic questions,  

JP: well, maybe a part of that. Hopefully we’re still shaving about the episode might look like but a few years ago, we conducted a symposium on mass incarceration in which Angela Davis was here and it’s an interesting tidbit because I was listening back to some of those recordings from that event. And this is 2009 and there was a almost a really this feeling of optimism of sorts after Obama was first elected president in Angela Davis his opening remarks. She was also citing Jefferson citing these this moment of reform as you point out the double-edged nature of that reform, but almost a call to action to say. In so many words, you know, we’re facing the same problem today. How do you change systems if corporal punishment then at that time seemed like and you know something that was at odds with the democratic ideals of our nation, you know in quotation marks, you know people or corporal punishment, right?

DC: Capital punishment

JP: Yeah capital punishment, you know that they made strides to change that and so it was almost this call to. Again with that footnote of this was at a moment of optimism in our even recent history, you know, what what does it mean for, you know again reimagining prison? Abolishing prisons at this moment where things are not it’s hard to remember a not like that type of optimism. I wonder if you have thoughts.  

DC: Yeah. I didn’t join in optimism personally around Obama’s campaign. I know I’m you know, some of the listeners may be outrage, especially in the context of the Trump presidency if we can call it that. I remember we had a Ruth Wilson Gilmore the author of “Golden Gulag” a similar kind of Symposium at UCSD around the same time. And I remember she said, you know,  

DMcD: She was here for that Symposium [in 2009]

DC: yeah, we have one one black man in the White House and nearly a million in the big house, you know, and and and you know, that was her way of saying wait a minute and what was Obama’s language all the way up, you know until his second term. And the Trayvon Martin case put, you know movement politics from the street forced him to finally say something about some of these problems these problematics that we’ve been talking about and then all of a sudden Eric Holder’s talking about felony disenfranchisement, but this was on the way out the door. What did he say when he came in the door? About the the very subjects that we’ve been talking about. I mentioned Brandon Duncan and Aaron Harvey earlier. Who fought the gang injunctions and are still fighting that in San Diego. What was he saying about subjects like them or Shailene Graves? She’s a black woman that fairly recently was found hanging in her cell in C.I.W. a facility in Corona, California or Erica Roca a Latina that was found hanging in her cell in the same prison that now has one of the highest suicide rates of any prison in the country. This is in democratic, golden, California. What was he saying? Well what he was saying was in terms of the black population. Stop blaming everybody else for what’s going on in your life. And take an individual responsibility and and basically get over it. And that individual kind of liberal notion of individual willful rising through a kind of meritocratic mythos was something that he kept talking about any chance he got the opportunity to.  This is while he was overseeing the militarization of police departments giving funding and actually warfare machinery to local police departments. This is while he was overseeing a in terms of the international scene horrific processes in Afghanistan and Iraq, never pulling out of Iraq as he promised also a proxy war against the Palestinians and all of these things going on around the time that everybody is feeling so hopeful and that’s not to mention the economic situation that we were talking about earlier. Where was the project for economic development within communities of color that have been dispossessed in the wake of the shift to the neoliberal regime? And the move away from the kind of projects that we saw bubbling through civil rights mobilizations in the 1960s and and the movements notion of ending poverty. Where where has that been from the Democratic party? And the answer is it has not been a part of their narrative. And so the only to use his campaign phraseology “Hope” as it always has lied only lies with mass mobilizations from below. And I think that you know, I’m a in my capacity as a professor at UCSD I’m a faculty advisor for student organization called Students Against Mass Incarceration. They are now in their sixth or seventh year of existence and have passed a prison divestment bill. You spoke of private prison corporations and universities having their funds investing in some of these corporations, but we have to be clear. The prison industrial complex is not only about private prisons. Yeah, and then if you look at the California State University system where I’m from all of the furniture that we would be sitting on right now would have been made by prison labor. Then there’s the other element of it that has nothing to do with labor that go that sees its products go outside the prison. The actual functioning of the prison as a kind of neo-plantation. From the bookkeeping, the delivering of the drugs to all the people that have mental illness and others inside the facilities, washing clothes, cooking. Everything that makes the plant or plantation go but when we talk about movements from below the prison strike recently in 17 States, the one and 2016 the hunger strike that I mentioned earlier about 30,000 prisoners what these movements from the below the below are doing is making us be accountable for our relative freedom, if you will, out here on the streets as scholars, as thinkers, as workers, not only to a process of increasing the minimum wage but of realizing that the political system as it exists now is part and parcel of the problems that we’ve been talking about today.  The so-called two-party system in my estimation has been one kind of millionaires and billionaires party for a very long time and you don’t have to look any further than the aftermath of the one of the biggest economic meltdown since the Great Depression starting in 1929. What was the aftermath and 2007? Who was appointed to Obama’s cabinet? There is a kind of way in which the economic elite in the country have grabbed a hold of the those who are supposed to be supposedly the representatives of us in Congress. And in the highest offices in the country and the Supreme Court And the only way that anything is going to change in that regard in terms of like where do we go from here? Is if we understand we have number one a proper analysis of what is happening and number two organized among ourselves follow the prisoners examples and actually take responsibility in the way they’ve asked us to which is to say: our tax money is supporting this project of what they’re calling prison slavery. What do you going to do about? And the end so that’s not a hopeful response. But it’s one that I think can be a catalyst for real action movement building has never been I mean Fannie Lou Hamer said I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired now she didn’t do that kind of work with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic party with an illusion of easiness or that sick and tired feeling ever going away. She did it because it was the right thing to do and needed to be done. And the victories small and big that those folks achieved are real, but we also have to in being proper stewards of their legacy recognize that our work and their work has yet to be done.

DMcD: Freedom is a constant struggle.

DC: That’s right. And Freedom aint free.  

DMcD: And freedom aint free.

DMcD: This over-Investment in what Glenn Ford calls this duopoly because that really is I have absolutely no, hope as people begin to mention Kamala Harris and Cory Booker. I just hang my head

DC: Look at Cory Booker’s record. I mean famously  

DMcD: Especially around education.

DC: And healthcare. I mean the day that I forget what was going on on Capitol Hill, but he and other members of the Congress rightfully complained that they were forced to speak black members were forced to speak at the end of a meeting and they felt like they were being put in the back of the bus. This was their language. On that same day, he voted against the measure that would allowed us consumers access to Affordable Pharmaceuticals from Canada. Now, this is something that’s not that may not be too sexy to people’s ears, but this is the real kind of bread and butter issues for people. Obama the same person that was for basically single-payer healthcare or real Universal Health Care when he was I guess he described himself as an organizer in Chicago. His own medical doctor for his family is one of the biggest proponents of healthcare for everyone that you know, most industrial nations already have. Where did that language go after he ran for President? Well, it went to into the toilet because he was funded by those who are the main players in the pharmaceutical and health industry lobby and that’s why he gave in other words a kind of political softball to the Republican Party by passing a version of healthcare reform–we started by talking about reform that actually can be problematic– that actually confused people and then took a lot of their money. Now if he would have come out with a program that took the high level of tax dollars that are available if we could shift that focus from warfare to healthcare then there would be plenty of money to cover such a program, but he could not speak those words because he was playing political according to what you talked about in a duopoly system.

All: [laughter]

DMcD: We gotta stop. We just have to stop. I’m thinking that we just need to bring you back and have you on tape  

JP: A personal recordist

DMcD: Yeah put you on speed dial. Just say: “Dennis, give me your thoughts on.”  

DC: I wish we could do this for a longer. Maybe maybe later over a wine. Well, I’m thinking so maybe we should get this maybe…

Noelle Hurd

JAMES PERLA: Alright, well, thank you so much for coming on the cusp of the winter holiday to speak with us about Jefferson and many other things just so we have it. Could you say your name and I guess your role at UVA?  

Noelle Hurd: Sure. My name is Nolle Hurd and I am an Associate Professor in the psychology department.   

JP: Thanks. Yes, we’re guess we can sort of jump right into it. I mean  you’ve published a lot in the past few years,in a very public way. And one of the things that we wanted to start with was I guess it was directly after the presidential election of 2016, you spearheaded a petition to encourage the administration to sort of not quote Jefferson as much as they tend to do. So, I wonder if we could maybe just start by asking you to sort of walk us through the process of creating the petition and sort of the reasoning behind it.  

NH: yeah. Sure. Let’s see. I’ll try and give you the briefer version and then you can let me know if you have more questions about any of the things that I mentioned. I do remember that just being a difficult time for everyone and and also being really connected with undergraduates and graduate students here at UVA who are all kind of feeling a lot of trauma related to [Donald] Trump’s campaign nomination, election and it definitely felt like the emails that we received from Teresa Sullivan both before and after the election that were really pointing us to Thomas Jefferson as kind of a moral compass in terms of you know, this is a time filled with a lot of conflict and divisiveness and she was pointing us to think about Jefferson’s words as a way to kind of aspire to be better. And for me, that just felt incredibly tone-deaf and offensive. I think in the context and you know, some of her initial email before the election had to do with acts of bigotry on campus and so it seemed particularly inappropriate to suggest that in a time when we’re having racist and bigoted remarks and actions on campus that the leader, you know, the moral leader who we should be thinking of in that moment would be Thomas Jefferson who himself was a white supremacist and owned slaves.  So yeah, I remember having those conversations around the first email that she sent out with students saying: “wow, I can’t believe you know, this this really feels like the wrong direction.” You know to kind of try and encourage a better more civil and kind of united campus climate. And then I remember the email right after the election felt definitely like a tipping point for many of us and I remember even having a text message exchange with my graduate students where we were all just very frustrated about what was happening and it definitely felt like insult to injury in that moment. And I think also hearing that same day that there were things happening with University police officers who had been taunting students who were upset walking home from hearing that Trump had won the election. So it was just a very like tumultuous and kind of upsetting time for many of us. And that’s where I think in the midst of us having this exchange of expressing our frustration. It seemed like obviously we shouldn’t just talk amongst ourselves, right? We need to communicate this information to the administration. So, then I think the rest of the process actually was kind of haphazard. I thought you know, let me draft an email to kind of at least make sure that my University president understands that this is harmful that this email that she sent out if nothing else is undermining the message that she presumably is attempting to convey. And also let me give other folks a chance to sign on to this as well because one I don’t know that it matters as much that one assistant professor in the psychology department feels this way probably matters more if there’s broader consensus about. And two, you know, this might be something that other people are really interested in being able to express as well. And so in a very haphazard way just kind of sent out this open email to colleagues to graduate students and then within a matter of I think about 48 hours there were nearly 500 signatures which to me just communicated that this is a shared experience that many of us are having especially those of us who are members of marginalized groups that were not feeling that these emails are connecting in the way that I’m assuming our University president wanted them to. And so that was kind of that process of you know, I’m sure if I had been invested in like collecting as many signatures as I could I could have let it go another couple of days and probably had at least twice as many, but you know, I was trying to get the communication to her in a timely manner and so went ahead and submitted it.  Yeah, so that was that process. I’m not sure.

JP: And for clarifying purposes, you mentioned a few events leading up to the 2016 presidential election that happened on campus I wonder just so that people might, if they’re not familiar, if you allude to those…

NH: Yeah, I remember there were several. One of them that was the most disturbing and I think happened pretty close to the election. Was that a student had been walking across campus in the middle of the day and had been yelled–there was like a truck full, it wasn’t clear that these were like white males student aged individuals. I don’t know that it ever was made clear whether they were in fact students or not who were driving by and like a pickup truck–and who yelled obscenities racial slurs and death threats at this woman as she was walking and it’s like in the afternoon on a Tuesday or something going to the library.  JP: It was on Jefferson Park Avenue or something?

NH: Yeah. So that happened. I know there were other things around just like chalkings that were happening. So people were writing I think anti-lgbtq comments, they were writing things about kind of like black intellectual inferiority, and those had those were events that had been happening in the summer when we actually have a lot of programs for students from underrepresented backgrounds to come to the university. And I think it was also before the election when some somebody had spray-painted the word “terrorist” on the side of a building with arrows pointed up to a room where some Muslim Students I think resided. And so those were some of to me the most like outstanding egregious incidents that happened. I know there were others, but I just remember having conversations with students and colleagues that these it felt like things were escalating and also just being aware that that wasn’t just happening here at UVA are a lot of this did seem to be happening in tandem with Trump’s kind of ascent to power.  

JP: Thank you.  

Deborah McDowell: Can you say what your effort and the responses you receive told you more broadly about the way this University uses Jefferson as an icon as a moral compass and also as a silencer?  

NH: That’s a good question. So are you mostly interested in kind of there was like the official or unofficial response from the administration or kind of just like broader because it was this really interesting thing. And I guess there’s like a system to this where right-wing kind of conservative enterprises have a system in place where they’re kind of scanning these student newspapers. And so because this, you know public email got picked up by the student newspaper. Somehow some kind of right-wing organized system got latched onto that and then it got picked up then through like out of Fox News, Breitbart, whatever and then they would just seem to be a very like kind of systemic trolling that happened as a result of that which I didn’t feel that that was necessarily like orchestrated by UVA, but I did get these really I mean, I just got a slew of really awful emails, letters, voicemails and people would write the most awful racist horrible things and then sign off with their name and the year that they graduated from UVA. So to me that was very telling and it wasn’t, you know, that wasn’t the entirety of it. I think there was plenty of just trolls from all over the country, but it was interesting to me to see people from who, you know had a history of had a connection with UVA the alumni connection saying really awful things really problematic things to me and then signing off right like kind of proudly of who they were and seeing themselves I think as kind of gatekeepers? And that happened that wasn’t just like one, right? So there was enough of those that to me that felt kind of like indicative of what the institutional culture has been and continues to be.  

DMcD: That is so important to say for a variety of reasons but not least in the aftermath of August 11th and 12th of 2017 because the immediate reflexive and sustained response to that event was “this is not us.” That was the refrain both within the university and within the larger community of Charlottesville that somehow these outside elements these extreme forces these people who are not us have come in and infiltrated and basically assaulted our values. Well, what are our values if you receive a series of emails from alums proudly identifying themselves as alums expressing hateful bigoted responses to to your petition? So basically the response you receive would give the lie or certainly would complicate any notion that UVA is an environment in which tolerance for all quote-unquote differences abides because your experience would clearly belie that  

NH: Yeah. I mean, I guess two thoughts one just related to that connection you made with August 11 and 12, you know, and I’ve been very involved with that, I counter-protested, was there, you know to me that connection was so obvious. Right? Like it was such a like the stream of experiences I’ve had personally being part of this community, you know a little bit even before 2016 but especially in 2016 up until now have just been very consistent. I think tells a very clear and consistent narrative. Also, I think it has been so important for us to really own and acknowledge that both Jason Kessler and Richard Spencer are alums of this University and so their central role as organizers and the fact that we had we had a whole series of events leading up to that, right? I remember actually on Mother’s Day going to that park that I guess was Lee Park at the time because the day before Spencer had been there having a the first torch-lit rally right of the summer. So that was May then there was the Klu Klux Klan rally. So yeah, the fact that all of these things were kind of coalescing around Charlottesville for me was not shocking at all, right? And like what does it mean to have Jason Kessler and Richard Spencer to have such close ties here? And to feel so comfortable to come here and honestly to feel like the red carpet was basically rolled out for them and the way that our administration kind of handled, especially August 11th, and what happened here.  Related to I guess I have one, you know kind of anecdote that I think captures really well the things that I learned about my administration and also, you know who makes decisions and who holds power around this University related to the open email that we sent asking Teresa Sullivan not to use Thomas Jefferson as a moral compass. And so I think it was a few weeks after that. There was like a faculty Senate meeting and I attended and I was attending because a colleague and I had been working on a presentation that I think she ended up delivering to tell the faculty a little bit more about how to respond to critical incidents and how we needed to do more as faculty to acknowledge these things that were happening, you know in our classrooms and to let students know that we were there, standing in solidarity with them that we wanted to be allies with marginalized students and that we were not complicit in these things that were happening. We had learned that it was really important to be explicit about that with our students. So we went so I went to the meeting for that purpose, but Teresa Sullivan was there I think she had just five or 10 minutes to make some comments and I remember it was striking to me that she had such little time and spent so much of it talking about what she said was kind of controversy around “free speech” that was the language she used at the meeting. And she specifically pointed out two things one was this petition and another was like right around that time our basketball team UVA’s basketball team had taken a picture. I think it’s just like after practice. This wasn’t in a game. It wasn’t which you know, I think all of those things are fine if they had kneel during the  national anthem as a sign of protest against injustice. I would support that. I think that’s well within their rights to do, right? That’s that also falls under this free speech umbrella. They took a picture, but you know, I think for me it’s important to know how benign the act was it was like they all wore these like black. I don’t know jumpsuits that they had for practicing and they all meal together locked arms and then posted am assuming on Instagram or some social media platform it said “kneeling against injustice.” And I thought well, you know good for them, right? Like, you know, it’s a way of taking a stand it’s a way of using their, you know, kind of status and popularity within the university to say, we, you know, we realize all of these things are happening and we as a team are kind of standing in solidarity against injustice. And I remember that that got covered in like, you know, whatever Daily Progress, Cav Daily [Cavalier Daily]and there was a lot of really hateful commentary about that and there was a lot of stuff that just seemed like trolling, you know? like take their scholarships away, they shouldn’t be there, and I remember being like: who are these people? And like where do I live? And what is offensive about kneeling against injustice? What is it about that that’s so alarming to people? And then I think oh, you know. Maybe these are just like trolls and this isn’t anything to take seriously, but that was you know, of the 10 minutes that Teresa Sullivan had in that faculty Senate meeting the two things that she talked about one that that she had gotten many calls to revoke their scholarships and to expel those students and also to let us know that all of us who had signed on to that petition about quoting Thomas Jefferson. All she’d been doing was fielding phone calls about having us removed and fired and having the students suspended and I thought I think that’s when I really got to understand that because if those were just random trolls, right who spend their whole day on The Daily Progress and Cav daily writing really ignorant misspelled, you know offensive comments it seems that that wouldn’t wouldn’t. That the little time that she has she would allocate to that. So that’s when this light bulb moment happened for me when I was like, those are the donors. Those are the alumni. Those are the people who think we should be fired and lose our jobs for this and also clearly those are the people who are on her mind because those are the silliest comments I’ve ever heard and so for you to then take up this time to say, just so you know, this is happening, but I’m not going to fire you and I’m you know, I’m such a benevolent leader. I’m actually not going to kick these students out either and it was just like it was bizarro world, you know?

DMcD: And I appreciate that anecdote. It’s really very telling and so who’s inside and who’s outside who holds these quote offensive positions. But I want to return to the question of the usefulness of Jefferson as a kind of silencing agent whether that’s intended to be the case or not. But say in her response I’m being deluged with calls to that are calling for you renegade faculty members to be dismissed, but no I’m not going to do that. But that in itself is probably a cautionary move. She’s making basically to say to you. I am not going to follow this but who knows? Someone after me, so perhaps you who are so given to being critical of the founder of our institution might want to think again and I think it’s also important to consider anecdotes like that within a larger national context because we do know in fact the kinds of abuse that black faculty members have been subject to and universities across the country precisely for the positions that they’re taking.  On a variety of what many would consider controversial positions but people invested in ideas of justice don’t find controversial at all, right? But it is if you’re right, if mere kneeling, if merely calling for a more measured less reflexive appeal to Jefferson in times of crisis, if these pretty innocuousness moves can create the kinds of responses then we have a sense that the climate is us. We are in the climate. It is surrounding us, right? And the university is itself within a broad social socio-cultural orbit and is not so much inoculated from all of the ills that we’re seeing everywhere else that the university is itself in that. And not just in that environment. It’s it has done its own bit of incubating and hosting to continue my metaphors these ideas, right? So they are very much with us. So Thomas Jefferson, who is this exponent of reason who in many people’s mind is the veritable embodiment of reason and Enlightenment that we appeal to him supposedly to calm the waters. We appeal to him because of his rationality because of this pseudo objective tone he seeks to strike and so if we appeal to him he can get us out of this mess. But as you say turning to Jefferson in these times, actually exacerbates the problem rather than eliminate it.  

JP: I wanted to just I mean I just under underlining some of the things, you know, people say that the university is not the quote-unquote real world. Right? And I think that comment shows that things are very real here, right?

DmCD: How can it not be the real world? In fact when I gave the commencement address to the class of 2017. Anyone, in fact when I was writing the address part of my agony had to do with the tension in my mind between acknowledging a celebratory occasion attended by, witnessed by people many of whom had made great sacrifices to see their children walk the lawn. So really wanting to honor this as a moment of celebration. Not to be cast in any negative light and at the same time wanting to acknowledge that there were many many things students commencing from this lawn on that day should leave thinking about. When I finish the speech, I thought this is a speech that is so innocuousness that it’s not going to be of much use to anybody but it’s the speech I can give right now. Well, I also got hate mail. I was not calling for us to stop quoting Jefferson. I was simply actually appealing to Martin Luther King. It happened to be the 50th anniversary of the publication of “Where do We go from Here?” But no matter what unless you stand on these grounds to say all is well with the world. Unless you stand on these grounds to say, “Oh What a Wonderful World.” There is absolutely nothing facing you but venom. And it doesn’t matter where you fall on the continuum of expression. I would argue that on the continuum of expression and opinion and political positioning my position in that speech on that day was clearly very mild to moderate. But it doesn’t matter unless what you’re going to say is I am happy to be here. Unless you are willing to basically commit yourself to some version of a standard script that everyone I believe would like to give black people and particularly black women if you have managed to get into a place like this your script is “from the outhouse to the lawn” or that you have scrambled your way through extreme hardship and as a result of institutional largesse, and so your only position is the position of gratitude.

NH: I would say two things were related to that that really resonated with me one was that I think, the two themes that I picked most from, you know, and I didn’t, you know to be totally fair, I didn’t read a lot of these things carefully. When I could tell from the beginning of the voicemail that there was a lot of hate coming from it, I just deleted it. I mean, I didn’t feel the need to subject myself and do some kind of like content analysis, but my very general sense from from the the kind of overwhelming majority of messages that I at least took a glance at was one: how dare you open your mouth. You should just be happy to be there and the fact that you think that you have the possibility to critique that space is like the biggest insult imaginable. And then the second one was, you know,  I’m going to say anything and threaten anything just to get you to shut up. So I think coming back to what you said about the silencing. It felt just very clear to me that and like you said if the most innocuous at to me that the the picture that the basketball team took right after practice, my email was entirely too respectful, probably, right? And it was just very much like, you know, just me lonely, you know lowly assistant professor reaching out and asking you oh president of the University. Could you you know had had it occurred to you that possibly the message that you are giving out wasn’t quite consistent with your other points about unity and civility. Right? And so I thought oh if that is what gets people this angry right also, you all just won you just got this like we’re the ones who should be angry right now, and I’m still like modulating and figuring out how to contort myself into such a way that I can express my feelings of outrage in the most respectful kind of commendable fashion. And then you are unleashing hatred on me for daring to do that. And so I think the other thing I took away from it was people are just so committed to this endeavor of white supremacy and are willing, you know, there are no kind of boundaries, right? For what what it takes to keep the status quo the way that it is and so it has been interesting to me to see the commitment within the university and outside of it to maintaining that status quo and it also has made me ever more determined I think to to give voice to these issues.

JP: One thing to circle back to and this is sort of by way of maybe housekeeping, not to use that term but to just sort of underscore as Deborah exits. Just making sure that okay. No problem is I guess, your previous comment was sort of alluding to the concept without invoking the term of “civility.” And so some of our other interviewees have mentioned civility. And so I wonder if you might want to just expand slightly on in what ways this encounter particular with the petition, but then also sort of bringing it up to present to your current sort of role in writing op-eds and sort of more public intellectual life. You know what what does civility mean? And like I said, I think your previous comment alluded to that sort of double edged sword of civility.  

NH: Absolutely and I think my thinking around what civility means and its usefulness has evolved quite a bit since then. So I think, you know 2016, you know Trump just got elected to the White House me was still probably a little bit in shock and probably still, you know, to some extent more committed to this notion of civility as the way of being able to advance one’s cause. I think there was a part of me that was probably more invested and that and saw that as a more legitimate and useful tool to advocate for social change and I think the experiences that I’ve had and the shifts that we’ve had in our socio-political climate just since then in really a fairly short period of time we’re talking about just a little over two years here has been quite vast and I think at this point, you know, the the 2018 version of me now feels very very much less invested in civility. Also have a much better understanding of the ways in which that language is used as a way of silencing folks, right? It’s like ask nicely right? Like I know you want to be treated equally and I know you want to feel physically safe and those are things I’m entitled to but sure I can understand why you might want them, but ask politely and I’ll think about maybe letting you have those things, right? And seeing that I think having a much better understanding of how this expectation even that people who are literally just advocating for basic human rights for equality that those are things that are so that are construed to be so radical. And that are so quickly shut down and I don’t think that asking politely is the way to gain equality. So I think the investment that I have, you know, if I was if that issue, you know presented itself again this month. I don’t think I would write the email in the same way and I don’t think that I would just. I don’t think I would think oh just send an email, right? I think I would think more about showing up in protest or being more vocal or doing other things to shed more light on these practices as opposed to having this be, you know…  That was that that was the other thing that was interesting to me in terms of the response from other folks within the administration who kind of attempted to shame me for making this a public spectacle as opposed to civilly having a very quiet, you know, one-to-one meeting with President Sullivan. Why didn’t you just meet with her quietly? She’s a very reasonable person and I was like, oh you fundamentally don’t understand the point here, right? You fundamentally don’t get what we’re literally committed to in regards to changing campus climate and it’s funny that you think that that would be a better solution because I’m quite certain that nothing would come from that right? No attention would be given to it. I’m sure she would be very polite to me in person and nothing would be different as a result and I felt like if nothing else the way in which this message is harmful to members of this campus community at least will now be documented and so you can continue to do that, but you can no longer claim ignorance, right? To the fact that that message panders to privilege and does not consider your entire university community, especially those of us who are most affected by these acts of bigotry that your email is supposed to be responding to.

JP: that’s great. In your conversation about you know, these are the were advocating for certain sort of inalienable rights, right? The language and not to always return to Jefferson, but because it’s the sort of topic of conversation the notion of the grievance, you know, I think is something that we can even loop back in to…. is it Jefferson? You know that was the sort of language in the Declaration of the “grievances” for certain rights that are not held for all and so sort of ironically these claims of civility that that silence put certain people’s grievances above others. So, I wonder if you can sort of meditate on. You know who’s grievances matter and what that means and in our moment.  

NH: Yeah, and I mean, I think that’s the other thing that I’ve been more outspoken about in subsequent op-eds or pieces that I’ve been asked to submit around just how the conversations that we have about Jefferson’s utility, right? And his contribution and the attempts that are often made to minimize the atrocities that he engaged in always do center around the notion that the ways in which he advanced our democracy benefited a subset right of our broader population and he was I mean that– this is not my language somebody else– I think it was a local clergy member around, you know was being interviewed I think on a news station after August 12th and referred to Thomas Jefferson as the founding father of white supremacy– And I think that’s a very accurate term in that and you know I teach a class on structural determines of inequality use Ibram [X.] Kendi’s [book] “Stamped from the Beginning.” There’s an entire section on Thomas Jefferson and really understanding the ways in which “Notes on the State of Virginia” at that time for what that literature meant for public thought and shaping public thought around black inferiority is important to understand, right? Not just that he owned slaves that he raped Sally Hemings that he fathered children with her, not just his actions as one person committing these transgressions, but the fact that he was influencing this broader conversation and understanding and the ways in which he you know founded University to be a pro-slavery institution, the ways in which we’ve had this history of eugenics and white supremacy with you know, baked into the institution by design.  And so it’s been really interesting for people to say “everybody owns slaves back then like don’t get all hung up on that thing, right?” And and the other thing is I think that the that is also a very anti-intellectual stance because it was in and you all know because you’re doing this podcast, but in his own writings, he even was able to talk about the horrors of slavery, right? So he both was a white supremacist in some ways in his writings and abolitionist, although never consistent with that in his own actions, right? So I think very like cowardly. One thing we know for sure about Thomas Jefferson is that he was loyal to his self, right? Self-interest came above everything else. So the way to kind of reconcile his actions with you know, the contradictions with his words as he did what worked best for him right now. This is pretty consistent thing throughout his life. So it is interesting to hear people say, you know, so what he did that, you know, he owned slaves and you know, he had an affair with Sally hemings. Like those are just things that people did of that time and it’s like well, first of all all of the things that you want to give him credit for right and in terms of just, you know leader of the Revolution the ways in which he was able to come up with these ideas these founding principles for our democracy those were not of his time right and then moreover if you really understood his writings you would know that it wasn’t just that he was not thinking about slavery from a critical lens. He thought about it as being harmful not just to slaves but to slave owners, right? And so the fact that he was able to see all of these things and understand them but still act in a way that was so harmful to so many and and then insured harm to come for generations. I think many of the things that we’re dealing with today are directly what he wanted what he created. And what he fostered and now we are fighting so hard to try and undo them. So it is tremendously harmful when people suggest that those transgressions should not mar this great man, right or that we should not take him down off of this pedestal just because right just because some of his actions were harmful to some people. It’s like no. His actions were intentionally harmful to the people who have the least rights still today. And so when we say those things don’t matter we are in essence saying black lives don’t matter.  

DMcD: A little bit off sequence here of script James, but I’m inspired by your eloquent statements and the passion. So when we began this series one of the things or when we began it in conception. We said again and again that we did not want to do a podcast that would position us as its producers in either one or the other familiar camp that the one such as you just described. Well, this man did great things. He’s the founder of democracy. He gives us this idea that people are still trying to export all over the world and he did all of these other wonderful things and he was a man of his time and then there were goes more inclined to think it’s you think that well, so he was a man of his time but he was the man of his time far more influential than any ordinary Tom Dick or Harry. And so, what do we do then where we said to ourselves if that’s what we’re going to do in this podcast, perhaps it’s not worth doing. Is there anything in Jefferson that is usable? We talk about a “usable past,” frequently. Historians employ that concept for a variety of reasons in a variety of contexts, but I think it’s also possible to to think about a usable present or usable future. Is there anything in Jefferson that could make for a usable present or future?  

NH: Yeah, I mean, absolutely. I think you know again I I teach Jefferson in my class, right? And so, you know, I think a lot of the attempts to undermine the petition were invested in trying to distort what I was even saying, right? So people were saying, you know this crazy leftist liberal Professor wants to wipe Thomas Jefferson from the history books. She wants censorship. She wants… And I was like, well, no, I want us to not use Thomas Jefferson as a moral compass. I definitely want that. I didn’t say we shouldn’t talk about him. I didn’t say it’s not useful to understand the hypocrisy the ways in which his writings were used around both white supremacy, but also around abolitionism the way in which civil rights leaders have used that language, right? All men are created equal to advance their cause right which is a which is a just cause. So that is to me all of that is tremendously useful in an institution of Higher Learning, right? And I you know, it has been interesting to me to have conversations even with other faculty who either assumed I don’t know about Thomas Jefferson or assumed I wasn’t teaching it or assume that they knew more about Thomas Jefferson and I do because they didn’t understand the critique that I was leveraging and they didn’t understand the nuance and what I was saying which. Yes to me, you know in the same way in which Ibram Kendi uses in his book to say: how did we get here? Right. Why do we still have so many people who think black people are inferior? Why do we think genocide of Native Americans is? Okay, right? Why do we think exploitation of black and brown bodies for white? Is the norm and it’s not a questionable history. Why do we teach history the way that we teach history? So to me, those are all very useful things in a class that’s around because the first half of my class is like how did we get here? What are the determinants and the second half of my class is like what do we do now, right. And I think in one of the more recent op-eds that I wrote that for the student newspaper, they asked me to write one year after I think I wrote one and kind of response to August 11th and 12th last year. Just like what’s useful to think about a year later and I said it’s useful for us to think about this legacy that we have all inherited that we are all dealing with my being here. And using that in the classroom to really better understand. How did we get here? Because how on earth are we going to get out of here? If we don’t understand exactly what happened to create that moment of August 11th and 12th 2017. So I think it’s incredibly useful. I absolutely advocate for teaching Notes of the State of Virginia for understanding the ways in which he his writings and his ideas were not consistent with his actions, right? And also what’s so useful to me in that class. And a lot of that is coming from Ibram Kendi’s book around the coexistence of racist and anti-racist ideas agendas and actions throughout history. So I think that’s also helpful to push back against this notion that you know, people are of their time and to disregard. I mean, that’s to me that’s also really important to sa: what is the history that we even know that we’re even being taught? That we don’t even know these stories of these anti-racist activists from the 17 and 1800’s. We don’t know them. We don’t know what they did. But we know Thomas Jefferson as our founding father

DMcD: And obviously the attention that we devote to Jefferson including the the attentiveness in critique and off has everything to do with his stature as we say, he was not the embodiment. He was not the ordinary Tom Dick or Harry. He was the person who occupied a very different rung on the social ladder on the political ladder on the cultural ladder, but one of the things I find fascinating and I mentioned this to James the other day. It’s not necessarily about how much someone writes but the influence of what they write because when we look at what Jefferson wrote about race what he wrote that qualifies as the discourse of anti Blackness, it’s not a whole lot that in the overall economy of what he wrote what he wrote about these issues. I wouldn’t go. I think it would probably constitute a chapbook and yet it has enormous influence and I think at the same time that we want to make it clear that he is no ordinary man. I think we also have to say that his ideas are part and parcel of a whole set of discourses that he neither founded nor perpetuated exclusively, alright? That for these ideas to have the power and influence that they do have they had to be echoed, ratified, reproduced in a variety of places by a variety of people and so it’s very important. Otherwise, we are. I remember there’s a line in Alice Walker’s novel “Meridian” where one of the characters is saying to another “well, once we have why people believing that they are the root of everything, good, bad or indifferent, we have them thinking that there are some kind of gods.” All right? And so at the same time that we want to say Jefferson is extraordinary in every meaning of that term. It is also important to note simultaneously that his voice his writings take their place within a whole complex. Some of it even inherited from others. All right. So that we are very clear that when we were talking about challenging Jefferson. We’re talking about challenging somebody who was just kind of one of the more public facing examples of something that is much much larger and much more widespread.  

JP: Yeah, and we this is kind of being efficient here, but the other day were also talking about sort of the the dual legacy of people with in Jefferson’s time critiquing Jefferson for the very inconsistencies that we’re still talking about today. So the because there’s this risk of saying well, you’re imposing the values of 2018 on a figure like Jefferson who was part of his time. So that’s a different sort of pivot for the man of his times argument. But we know you know from many people also teach Jefferson alongside David Walker and so, you know within his time Banneker and so within his time people were critiquing Jefferson for his inconsistencies. And I want to maybe invite Professor McDowell to sort of meditate on that, you know, particularly with the legacy of Woodson, you know, we’re in the Carter G Woodson Institute, and so thinking of this project as kind of like its impacts for what we’re doing with this project more broadly is to not just talk about Jefferson but to talk about sort of the work that’s kind of going on in Black studies, more broadly.  

DMcD: Yeah, I think that’s a very important question because that’s one of the ingenious aspects of white supremacy, especially. In its extreme most visible forms, right? Because we know we have to talk about all of the ways in which it goes on unnoticed invisible and yet its impact is completely strangling and devastating to but in its public manifestations when we continue to talk about what white supremacy. Yes. We are, in fact I mean this was one of the critiques of quote-unquote “whiteness studies” in its heyday in the 80s and 90s. People were saying, well, even if you are only talking about the failings of whiteness–and that is the bedrock of whiteness studies–you are still giving pride of place and in pride to whiteness. All right. So thinking about Woodson is adds another quote unquote, son of Virginia clearly one though without founding status. Woodson was wrote as you know about a whole range of things Woodson was a historical generalist, we might say because he is writing about everything from black religion to migration patterns to folks sayings to music to labor. So he’s something of an historical polymath but through it all no matter what he’s writing, he finds some opportunity to talk about Jefferson. I’ve been going back to some of the early issues of the Journal of Negro History, which Woodson founded as you know. So really in the earliest issues Woodson is himself meditating in some way on Jefferson. In one essay, I read two nights ago on the history of miscegenation in this nation. There is Jefferson right up there. Woodson, we believe though, I’m waiting for absolute verification because Woodson wrote these pieces in each issue of the Journal of Negro history that were called “Documents”. Sometimes other people wrote them and when other people wrote them, they would typically be attributed: “Nolle Hurrd wrote this document.” But in others that were unattributed the what some scholars believe these were the ones Woodson himself wrote. So a second piece I read just this week was about Thomas Jefferson’s views on the Negro pretty lengthy piece  

JP: Published in 1819?  

DMcD: No in 1918, you reversed the dates

DMcD: 1918, right? So no matter what Woodson is doing no matter what he’s writing about he is finding a way to insert Jefferson. I mean in this is really historical research, right? These are documents culled from here this place and that place one of the scholars that consulted answered to say if we could absolutely go to Woodson’s library in the Library of Congress. We could likely answer the question definitively. We could trace the references in the piece to the library.  

JP: Maybe we should do that.  

DMcD: yes, maybe we should do that. But she was willing to hazard a guess that it’s a very strong likelihood that Woodson himself wrote this piece on Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Jefferson’s ideas about the Negro quote unquote. So yes thinking about people talking back to Thomas Jefferson is vitally important and not they weren’t all black people clearly David Walker is confronting Jefferson quite forthrightly in the appeal Banneker is quoting him. But then even when Jefferson answers, but he says well no nothing would please me more than to arrived at the place where I could agree with your assessment, right? That is the level of his arrogance. But back  JP: Then he’s writing to other people to say stuff like he sort of undercutting that when he’s writing to his friends and colleagues Jefferson to say you wouldn’t believe this thing going on over here. And so, you know, he’s kind of flip-flopping a lot.

DMcD: Yes, you know one could argue that that Jefferson becomes a fixture in Woodson’s writings not the only one but he is frequently reference and he becomes a fixture because in no small measure I would speculate because that’s all I’m doing is that Woodson in its himself a “son of Virginia,” and he is born in Buckingham County. He is a descendant of enslaved people, right? And that basically as a popular historian Woodson sets himself the task early on forthrightly–he was very explicit about it– that the reason the study of black history needed to be popularized was to puncture this notion widespread in the land and perpetuated by Jefferson that black people were intellectually inferior had not contributed anything to the advancement of civilization et cetera. And that that would be his “cause” Woodson called it his cause and that that could circulate widely in the bloodstream of the nation through popular mechanisms. And so Woodson saw himself as posing a challenge to in many ways Woodson– I mean Jefferson’s ideas– and not just posing a challenge to them, but basically providing contravening evidence, right? Hence: “documentation.” That he sees himself as one invested with the power in early on its this is a kind of side note, but it says something about where we find ourselves as academics in any institution of higher learning and particularly this one because Woodson learned early on that to do the work he wanted to do he couldn’t do it within under the auspices of the academy. So he had to just abandon the academy. He knew that what he wanted to do would not be and could not be sustained within Institutions of Higher Learning, not even Howard where he worked for a time. Because the inherently conservative nature of Institutions is such that anybody whose intellectual project was by definition arrayed against or in in expressed antithesis to the status quo would not survive. All right? So he had to abandon foundation support because what what these institutions support what philanthropy supports comes with strings attached and Woodson did not want the strings. He understood that he the power of his critique would clearly  be diluted. That he in order to survive within Academia the power of that critique would have to undergo continual dilution to the point where it would bear no resemblance to what he anticipated. So yes, he is challenging Jefferson wherever he can and challenging him also in ways that are both… That are using the power of documents and that are also using the power of editorializing because if you read in between the lines of the piece on Jefferson and the Negro, he is inserting various juicy digs and Jefferson and then Jefferson’s offspring what is happening to them?

JP: “Reading.”  

DMcD: Yes, he’s yeah, he’s reading Jefferson. So again, this is I’ve begun to ramble. I think I hope I’ve answered your questions. JP: We want to be mindful of time here as well. But this has been a wonderful conversation. I’m sure we could go on like this, you know spinning around for hours. I wonder if you maybe. Either of you had anything else to add or include? Yeah.  

DMcD: I wanted to ask Nolle about. Let me just yeah, and you’ve been very generous with your time. So we don’t want to take any more if that’s not.  

NH: That yeah, unfortunately that… JP: cross talk– that usually happens with the best of interviews…  

NH: that was my daughter calling so I just needed to make sure she was okay, she’s fine.  

DMcD: Because one of the things I want to talk about here takes us to at least one of the third objectives of this podcast. Is to try to think about how Jefferson might be useful to us– pro or con– in terms of useful and thinking about institutional transformation. I am a person who has grown impatient with the language of diversity and inclusion. In fact, I there is an expression in Alabama, spoken by people who consider themselves wise in the ways of the world. Maybe they don’t have as they say “book knowledge,” but they have “street knowledge.” And so there’s the caution that people with “street knowledge,” which some people value more than book knowledge will say don’t go falling for the “okey-doke.”  I think that many of us fell for the okey-doke when it came for diversity. Okay when it came to thinking about diversity and inclusion. So I’m trying to this is a very global question and you can find your point of access as you will into thinking about what Jefferson gets us or where he might get us in thinking in more productive ways about diversity and inclusion, then we seem to be inclined to think.

NH: Yeah, I mean I you know, my first kind of instinctual response is to circle back to what we talked about a little bit earlier which was more of the like “we need to understand how we got here if we’re going to really understand,” you know, and that’s where I think, you know teaching a course on the structural determinants of inequality and understanding how radical, how extreme, how egregious, how perseverant, you know the ways in which we have arrived where we are right now through such intentional effort to me is so important to understand and to make sure that others understand because if we are not equally radical and extreme and committed in our efforts to upend this very problematic structure that we find ourselves. I don’t think that’s possible for us to really truly arrive at a place where we have an equal society.  So. you know, I again I you know, I know some of that’s redundant with what I said earlier, but I think that to me you know, which is quite a bit different– and you know, I’d be interested to hear more what your thoughts are around how you know the the ways in which diversity and inclusion kind of language and initiatives ends up being maybe kind of empty and meaningless–but you know, for me, the contrast now is like not only are we not doing any of these radical and extreme and highly important and you know part of the reason we’re not able to kind of implement the change that we want to see is because of white supremacy, right? Like it also has built into it so many strategies and techniques for silencing shutting down. You know creating limited possibilities if we can’t even raise issues because we will make my people uncomfortable then and if our best like possibility for having radical institutional change is like doing that civilly and coming to agreement right and making people unhappy or uncomfortable. Then it seems impossible right?  JP: It’s kind of this thing that if I may sort of circle back to your petition one thing we’ve slightly left out is that the shrouding of the Jefferson statute, you know, that’s when it became explicit that this is sacred ground. So at the very moment of taking your petition to sort of it’s as you were saying earlier like your 2018… as you were saying your 2018 self would be a little bit more direct with how you confront this sort of institutional need to return to Jefferson. And not to sort of speculate too much but that might look like shrouding the Jefferson statue? If that’s fair to say.

NH: Yes.

JP: and so maybe meditating on that a bit in light of this comment just just now.  

NH: Yeah, I thought that’s yeah, I guess that’s perfect cause I was a say, that’s the juxtapositioning with what I think the radicalness and the extremity with which we probably need to be advocating right for equity for you know, being treated as humans, right? So, I think that’s what we need to do. And instead where we are is like bizarro world where it’s not even just like it’s not even that those things aren’t happening. But it’s like even the more kind of civil attempts to say, excuse me. Could we not have a Jefferson statue around every corner and could we not always be asked to work Jefferson quotes into our lectures and could we just at least could we talk about him in a more honest way could we just do that and then the kind of contempt with which we are met for doing so. And so I was there that was like a month after August 12th. I think when the students organized a protest. There were a number of faculty there and it was very interesting to me to see as well. And I was like again this is a month after you know, a bunch of our community members and students got run over by a car from a white supremacist and a person lost their life right as a result of that. So yeah to think about it in that aftermath what was striking was that the shrouding even is as radical as we could be, right? And that I thought that was definitely a step definitely in the right direction right more so than my my polite email and the reaction from the administration in that case. I think was also particularly telling right the language that was used especially in the even the separate email that went out to friends of the University, alumni, donors, where that statue is referred to as “sacred ground” and the language that was used to kind of like demonize the group of protesters and diminish, right? To suggest it was just a small group of students. It was not. it was plenty of students. It was also plenty of faculty and staff. We were there.  There was a person who showed up who was not a part of our group who was actually there to antagonize who had a gun and I think the message that she sent was to misrepresent who was there to misrepresent who was arrested, right? Who was not a member of our group and to try and discredit that effort and like you said to then invoke this language of a Jefferson statue is “sacred ground.” It’s like you didn’t even use the word sacred to talk about the life that was lost at the hands of a white supremacist. But you’re using that language to talk about students literally covering up a stupid statue. I mean to me that is the juxtapositioning of where we are right now and like how far we are, I think, from the types of things we probably need to be doing to actually see the type of change that we need to see.

DMcD: Yes. This is very useful. This is again. We’re not going to keep you forever. But your responses are so rich, they lead to more and more and more. One observation and then one question. And the observation is this: there were two separate emails in the email that went to friends and donors clearly. That is the reassurance that has to be superintendent, right? Because clearly as the state legislature invest less and less and less in the day-to-day operations of this public university. It relies more and more on philanthropic dollars. And so wealth has to be appeased. And so it’s very very clear that I’m going to send a separate email to people who are bankrolling this observation. So, however, offensive that was the reasons for it or quite clear that we don’t have to talk to people who don’t give us money and the people who are the quote-unquote rabble-rousers are not the people who are likely giving us money. But your comment also brought to mind.. Boy, it went right out of my head…. Shrouding. But there is a second question  

NH: I’ll say something else about that and maybe that’ll help to jog your memory. But to me that that point about who matters and who doesn’t and to me the other thing that’s really challenging about that is yes, some part of your job is to fundraise, right? And to think about how to appease the donors. But if we’re going to have the kind of radical change that we need to have then you have to be thinking about how do you create the University environment now for these students to have the type of experiences that may make them want to be donors, right? At some point. So, the ways in which you know when we talk about Jefferson and where we are now and who has wealth and who doesn’t. Well, these are all interrelated. Right? So the fact that people who have wealth as a direct consequence of slave-owning are the people who don’t want to talk about white supremacy and who went to still uphold Jefferson as a uncontroversial wonderful founding father. You know that is all you know, that’s the ways in which all of these things weave together so obviously for me.   So then that the students, you know, members of marginalized groups who are here, you know, upset and having experiencing the university as a campus climate that’s not safe, right? And that is literally our administration’s job, right? Is our safety. So as much as they may want to pander to the privileged and raise their money, they also literally do have to keep us safe, right? And I think it’s in our best interest to continue to remind them of that, right? As much as you may want to use whatever kind of language, you know, the things that you’re doing are both undermining the safety of people who are here now. People who, in these diversity and inclusion conversations, you are eager to brag about the diverse the diversity in your student body, right? So if you want to do that, then you also have to keep those people safe here. And who knows maybe even let them have a positive experience? So that one day in the future they would actually want to be proud alumni and donors. So I think this strategy right now and this commitment to the people, who are you know, what the alumni body looks like today presumably is not going to be the alumni body of tomorrow and there needs to be more attention to what is happening in this space now and what are these experiences? And what is their actual job? Right? Like you may say my primary interest is in appealing to the people who are going to bankroll us. It also is literally part of my job to keep people safe and I can’t opt out of the latter just to pursue the former.  

JP: And it’s also the job to pursue knowledge and that sounds very naive but we’re here to ask questions and do research and do this kind of work that is in the service of critiquing.  

DMcD: Yeah again, I still have a resurrected my question. But yes, it is our role to reproduce knowledge. And again, what is what knowledge does the institution get behind? What knowledge does the institution support? In what corners of the university is knowledge production valued? You’ve heard me say this again and again, James– borrowing from Ralph Ellison– that this is an institution that wants to “move without moving” that and and the greatest evidence of that desire is in “fringe” operations– that it did come back to me– when you say if we want to change this University for the students who are to come many some of them are already here. Then we have to think about providing them a radically different experience than we have. And so I’ve been quite taken with the fact that however important it is to interrogate our origins in slavery, that is vitally important, I think this university has gone in a direction that basically has us backward looking and as long as we are backward-looking and quote-unquote attempting to atone for the sins of the past, we are really not focused as intently as we need to be on the requirements of the present. And again, it is a fine line you have to walk but I think we have settled comfortably into interrogating slavery because we can delude ourselves into believing we left all that behind. This is not who we are now, right?  Our current Dean has been given to saying in various public speeches that this university has to become the University of Sally hemings as well as of Thomas Jefferson. And so we interviewed him. We asked him what that would mean, in fact. Listening to you talk about the need for more radical changes and interventions: what might it mean to center Sally Hemings? And the legacy of Sally Hemings as we think about establishing a new blueprint for the future of this University?

NH: Yeah, I’m and I’m also really struck by what you were just saying about needing to be more forward-looking and what that means and how do we kind of integrate all of these different threads in a way that feels meaningful right? I mean, to me, it’s interesting to always like have this conversation and increasingly it is true in my time here, which is only been about six or seven years, you know, the the report on slavery, the new commission around segregation, the you know that the memorial that’s going to get built, so like I am increasingly hearing about slavery, but it is this weird juxtapositioning. I’ll get an email from UVA, you know, whatever UVA News, Virginia Magazine. And it’s like, you know a story about Thomas Jefferson’s greatness and then a story about slavery. And so even that disconnect that happens there. I mean to me maybe part of that part I don’t you know, I can’t speak for the Dean. But I wonder if some of it is that you know, my request would be like, let’s think more about the integration of all of these things, right? You don’t have you know, you don’t have a history of slavery at the University without Thomas Jefferson being front and center in that history, right?  And so even what I understood from the Bicentennial which I did not attend but that there was both this way of saying, you know, we want to bring descendants of slaves and onto slate onto stage and celebrate them, but we also want to have someone dressed up as Thomas Jefferson delivering a monologue. And I’m like… it’s like kind of like gaslighting, you know? Just this experience of being here and the ways in which these contradictions are almost like married to each other in a very consistent systematic way and it’s disturbing.

DMcD. And that to me would be a graphic example of the desire to “move without moving” that you want to keep dragging and obviously you can never leave the past behind you. The past is you’re going to be carrying it forward, inevitably, whether you think you can leave it behind or not. But there is this sense that we can it is an additive approach. You know, it’s the critique of what people that people have often leveled against the before we got the concept of intersectionality when say black women would be ask. Well, how do you feel most oppressed as a black person or as a woman? And you would say, “well, I am both these things simultaneously. There is never a moment when I’m not..” You know, and so we do take this additive approach that our idea of “correction” is adding on. It’s appending. It is not transforming from within and that’s what you’re focused on when you’re talking about structures and that’s what’s being asked and that is what is so problematical about diversity and inclusion in some uncritical way because basically then you assume that a Department of Women and Studies and Women and Gender or Department of African American and African Studies would just be another department, right? That these would not be departments that in some ways would fundamentally interrogate the logic, the methodologies, the assumptions the prerogative of a whole range of disciplinary formations. And that unless you want to be simply another department added on not one that would say hold it. We can’t possibly think about history in the same way. Once we put this lens on it. It is that that is structurally transformative or that holds the potential to be structurally transformative, but it’s a desire to just see that let a thousand flowers bloom because the what is added it would never interrogated or call into question: what is here?  

NH: We’re not threatening the status quo, right? Like you can have your you know memorial and you can have your department and that’s fine, just don’t mess up any of the other stuff that we have, right? And don’t disrupt our Bicentennial Celebration with your protesting and your signs about white supremacy. Don’t do that. We’re going to give you your memorial but like let us continue to honor TJ. Let us continue continue to have Jefferson exceptionalism as our brand for our University. Like we don’t want to change those things and also you can come here and be part of this community, but don’t try and change it. Don’t try and make it someplace that you actually can be your authentic self and feel comfortable. That’s not what we’re in the business of doing here. So to me it all is consistent with this idea of maintaining the status quo.  And so the “bends” or the “gives” and I like what your language around additive, right? It’s like well if the if we can keep the core intact and maybe make some smaller changes on the periphery. That’s really not that threatening to our status quo. But when you start talking about integration and you start talking about changing the statues that we have, and the language that we use, and our brand and the ways in which we’re teaching and the people were hiring and the students who were enrolling that’s too radical. JP: And who runs things.

NH: More importantly yes.  

DMcD: Yes, and who runs things. Because basically when we look at who runs things that we have in 2000 and almost now 2019. We have virtually no one in central administration. No one with a vice presidential appointment. That’s there’s someone outgoing, all right. But again, how do we define these positions? Do these positions have the power to set policy do these positions operate independent of the executive? I mean it’s kind of like we are a university that is as much in need of a system of checks and balances as the government needs it. That if you are going to have offices or structures that are basically beholden to the executive branch, what possibilities do you have to change? If you’re very job is dependent upon your approval by the executive branch or the executive branch can make all kinds of changes via fiat? And that you really can’t. That it what I’ve come around to seeing and it can seem ungracious uncharitable and perhaps to some ears uncollegial, and I would never want that to be the case, but we are part of the entertainment of this University. And the way that black Americans are the performers for the nation, right? That there is space for us to make people feel good. There is space for people to be entertained, right? That the idea that we would attach to the office of Diversity and Equity programming on Martin Luther King. However, important programming is on Martin Luther King. That is not for that office. That office should be doing something else. This is not for the record. But if you see what I mean, so you then attach a form of entertainment we come together in our as they are want to call them our ecumenical. They don’t call them a faith faith based or it’s not faith. The term  

JP: non-denominational

DMcD: yes, but they use another term. But it’s you know, our annual ecumenical service where all people of all faiths come together to commemorate Martin Luther King. But again, if we only commemorated the Martin Luther King that was himself invested in the structural determinants of inequality, but the Martin Luther King that is not the Martin Luther King that is celebrated. And so frankly I’m coming around– I’m kind of cynical by disposition– but it seems to me that unless we are willing to play the role either to entertain or pacify or placate because and then when we think about it the roots of that are again in slavery. That we are we rightly focus our attention on slavery as the institution that extracted people’s labor that held them in bondage that determine their time and how they would spend it, but it was also an institution that saw itself as molding shaping determining and commandeering the emotional responses of people who were held captive, right?  And so you will have a book like “12 Years a Slave,” narrating the plight of a woman whose children are taken from her and who then ceases to do anything but mourn for the rest of her time. Well, she is sent away from this plantation because what is being commanded of these people is that they perform happiness, all right? That this idea that we have of the loyal contented slave, right? That’s it. Unless you’re going to give us evidence that this is an innately beneficial institution for you and you would otherwise not have sense enough to come in from the cold unless you can do that. You have no place on the plantation. So, when Jefferson is talking about the emotional disposition, the dispositions of black Americans, he is participating in a pretty by this point pretty advanced discourse that has also attached certain forms of feeling to capacities for citizenship. So when you really think about slavery in these terms you are thinking about something that truly is seeking to own everything about captive people. It is attempting to own captive people body and soul. If we think that soul is that thing that is that cannot be reached that is contained within the wells of our being… No, this institution thought it had access even to THAT, right? And so when we trace this not in straight lines. But we trace these routes which are running in all directions. We take them back here. They are back there. Where what we need to say in or how we can say what we need to say has to be authorized by people who want to control tone, temper, and content… And this will be our undoing you cannot have it both ways. You, you cannot… That’s too much preaching.  

NH: But well, I think also what you’re saying just briefly out onto that it’s also…. It’s what we want from you and it’s also how anything you say will be interpreted, right? So, there’s because I have the expectations for what is possible for you anytime you do anything that even mildly seems to violate that, right? It’s like even how I can perceive and receive anything that you do and whether I would respond to it differently whether it’s you saying it versus James saying the exact same thing, right? So that’s the added layer on top of it.  

DMcD: That is the added layer on top of it. That you yourself don’t know when you’ve transgressed, until you have transgressed. And I think that’s one of to kind of bring things full circle and back to the question of Jefferson and his contemporaries or people writing back to Jefferson mean that’s one of the reasons that David Walker’s “Appeal” is rhetorically so brilliant. Because what David Walker understands is this language of dispassion this language of reason, this measured tone that Jefferson is trying to strike in much of “Notes on the State” can only be answered from a different higher and exaggerated and intentionally exaggerated register. That you don’t meet that’s back to your point about you can’t promote radical change through moderate means and so what David Walker is doing and the senses, you know Flannery O’Connor used to have this response to people who would say, “I mean you really did these characters to create this work your writing. It’s just weird.” And so she would answer, “you know, we are in an age that has come to domesticate all kinds of thinking that should not be domesticated and so to the hard of hearing you must shout. And to the almost blind you must draw large and startling pictures.” And so David Walker saying I can’t meet Jefferson on that ground. I can’t meet Jefferson on the ground of reason, dispassion, moderation… Rhetorically. I got to meet him on a different rhetorical ground,all right? And you can call that ground extreme. You can call it exaggerated but it is a studied effort on my part to challenge him and to challenge him both in terms of content and in terms of mode.  And this is what we’re missing here in our atmosphere of social politesse where everybody is not going to speak above a whisper and that for certain people our position to occupy certain emotional terrain. It is no accident that black women are referred to here and elsewhere as angry. That is the terrain we get to occupy. And that is a terrain that is also meant to be disciplinary. It is meant to be corrective because if you bear that. If you carry that incubus around your neck that is also which is that which is identifying you as something that can be ostracized… that can be ostracized and discredited. So when we say white supremacy is baffling and cunning or when I say it, all right. I mean. It is baffling and cunning. And it and its workings are not always visible to the naked eye.

NH: Yes.

DMcD: And I think if we need to take anything away from August 11th and 12th it is that for every need we have to decry and discredit what happened. We have to understand simultaneously that most of white supremacy does not take the form of men in khaki pants wielding tiki torches. That what we are witnessing at this University. Who is endowed What is in endowed? What forms of knowledge are or are authorized? What forms of knowledge in structures within which these knowledge forms are being reproduced get by living hand-to-mouth? And what part get on agendas for capital campaigns? So I’m with you and if we don’t think of anything other than, which is my great pet peeve about “Henry the Bell Ringer…” of all the ironies we’re going to talk about coming into a contemporary moment. We want to talk about social transformation and we plan a Bicentennial event celebrating “Henry the Bell Ringer.” This is a part of the tone-deafness, right? That maybe the only way you can get through to that is this you say not through email not through petition but through more extreme though not violent means. I could talk to you forever. So rich.  

NH: Yeah. The only thing I’d say related to that I don’t know if you were able to attend but Jelani Cobb was here earlier this year and he said something about how we want to do, you know institutions of higher education what do all of this work to recruit black and brown bodies into this space just to have them politely have discussions about their own inferiority. And I think that you know resonated so much with me and ties into what you’re saying and also just all of the conversations that we continue to have at this University and it all these universities and in our country more broadly about free speech, right? And this language around civil discourse and intellectual exchange and the expectation that no matter how offensive and dehumanizing my argument you just need to sit there and take it and be just as dispassionate about it as I am because I mean it’s just an idea and the fact that it’s an idea that threatens the entire core of who you are and your ancestry and your worth and your value and the ability to even qualify your qualify yourself as human that shouldn’t matter. We should just have a conversation, it’s just a discussion and if you want to get all upset about it. I think that means you’re not able to have a rational intellectual exchange. That means there’s something wrong with you and that actually kind of proves my point. Right? So I think when you talk about, you know, the brilliance and resilience of white supremacy, right? As the ideology that literally permeates everything and the temptation that people have to only see it in this very egregious attack that we sustain and not see it woven into the fabric of our day-to-day realities and amplified, I think, in many ways here at this institution and that’s a to me a really powerful point.  

DMcD: Yeah, it’s going to go off again on a long tangent, but you see this is it this is a part of the wiliness because if you while you’re over here and I think it applies to a lesser degree to our over investment in symbols and statues because while you’re over here basically laws and statutes people are being packed on federal benches without even having hearings that all of that apparatus goes on unchecked, right? So to the extent that we can keep you focused on and preoccupied with the most extreme forms of white supremacy and bigotry. In at the level of epithet etc. Then we can carry on over here out of sight going into buildings with our briefcases with our six figure salaries it is that is the focus. We need to focus and our students need to focus on trying to ensure a permanent presence at this University that cannot be dismantled by the ever rotating group of administrative players Deans, Provosts, Presidents, but that is what we are pacified that this we are we are pacified and we are expected to pacify, you know and and pacifiers. You’re neither of you was old enough to root to probably know about something that was a fixture of my childhood called a “sugar tit.” And you it’s just empty calories. You would give a baby with sugar something with it that they could suck on and it’s just nothing there. Nothing of any nutritional value, right? But it quiets you, right?  

JP: A placebo?  

DMcD: Yes. Well a placebo is a different thing a placebo. Well, it’s in that family. It’s a cousin. But this is this actual little thing. The placebo is not giving you what the other drug you’re not getting the drug. You’re getting the placebo, but you are getting the sugar tit, you know, you’re getting sugar water.  JP: It’s not nutritionally fortifying.

DMcD: No nutritional value. It is not sustaining it can sustain you in fact it can rot your teeth even as they are coming in, right? But that’s you but it quiet as  JP: And it gives you a spark of energy. Do get a little sugar rush and then you fall asleep. And then you don’t get bothered anymore?

DMcD: Yeah, I am convinced that we are not meant to be anything more than a set of musical chairs here and that is consistent even with our approach to diversity. We don’t want to grow our own, right? We want to keep raiding other universities, right? So there’s this ever so you move from Harvard to Michigan from Michigan to here. That’s what we’re doing rather than investing in high school students getting them basically introduced to research early on. Basically doing the work of renovating because students here in the public schools continue to say well UVA may as well be in Timbuktu. We don’t think of this as a place. How can you not think of this as a place to which you should have apply? This is a public university. So even as I said, I’m not going to go off in another sermon. I am more and more convinced that unless we are willing to have these conversations that then we are all complicit in maintaining a structure that really does and is expert at what institutions do and are expert at at and that is maintaining themselves exactly as they wish to be seen, exactly as they wish to be known, with just enough tinkering around the edges to give to pacify some and give others the illusion of change. That is not change. That is “moving without moving.”  

JP: Well, thank you so much for your time and so generous with us and hopefully that we will definitely keep you in the loop about how the project progresses and. You know, ideally we’re going to try to make the interviews available in full. Although some we might have to talk about certain things when it comes to that. But yeah, thank you so much. And I mean even just there was a moment of it’s just a funny anecdote that talking about the additive parts. In one of our interviews with Nia Bates. She talked about the descendant communities at Monticello during the “Getting Word Project” and they sometimes invite the families up for you know, gatherings and whatnot. But they were having a gathering for the Hemings family descendants of Sally Hemings and the Jefferson family descendants felt entitled to go to that event. And and she was saying, you know, like it in this was I think one of your points you made at the Bicentennial like how is it that you want to have the Sally Hemings descendants in the same physical space as the Thomas Jefferson descendants? Assuming that there’s just going to be some big grand family like that they’ve just sort of reconnected, a family reunion, right? And, so I think I wanted to just underline that a little bit because the language you were using was was was the language of the family, you know? We’re married to this idea of Jefferson and, you know, so this this concept that a university is in many ways providing a home away from home. You know, there’s a family component. Professors become advisors, but they also do a lot of emotional labor to be the sort of parental figures. That’s a lot of additional work. And so in this weird dynamic that it’s a corporation, it’s a family, it’s a sort of a democratic body as well that the concept of the family is sort of constantly getting sort of exploited and and sort of used in many different ways. And so that’s just a…  

DMcD: And it was used in the institution of slavery that the pro-slavery advocates really appealed to that language all the time within the family circle is a very common concept. The law of love abide. So it’s this idea that this is protofamilial in slavery that we are all we take care of our own. Yeah, it’s a complete exploitation of familial rhetoric. Absolutely. And you in the life and history of all universities not so much now, but there used to be a concept is built into the idea and the language of University functioning that faculty did function in the the term was in loco parentis. Yeah, then there was that certainly was in my years as a college student the concept of in loco parentis was very much in operation. So  

JP: which means…  

DMcD: It means as a parent instead of in the position of in the location of a parent that was absolutely the case so indeed, but you see it is the familial language. Again, this is a the wiliness of white supremacy. When it is convenient to employ that language you employ it. When it is not convenient, right? You’ve heard me also talk about this. We all know that in the in human history the concept of adolescence is a separate stage of development is really late in human history, but we do know that when we come to think of adolescence is a stage of development that accords the people in that category certain protections right in claims to innocence we know who is in exiled from that category. All right. When it is not that which is how to Tamir Rice can be said to be what he looked to be a lot older. Right? So when it is convenient people in in domestic servitude in well after slavery were often told: “Oh, well Mage  is like one of the family”… “Mage just like one of the family… Really? Uh-huh.” So yeah the exportation of familial rhetoric. I mean or familial rhetoric is employed for exploitive and purposes, right? Because and that goes back to slavery slavery gives the captive person sentiment. You’re like a member of the family rather than legal protection. So the tension between law and sentiment is what structures slavery.

JP: I wonder if you can maybe bring that to diversity and inclusion  

DMcD: Law and sentiment?  

JP: Or in the sense that you know that… terms being replaced… That sentiment is is not any legal protections.

DmcD: It’s not any legal protection. No, it is not.

JP: And in the same way where that sort of diversity is a sentimental sort of feeling… About sort of the warm and fuzzy, “We’re All in This Together kind of…   

DMcD: But it didn’t start out that way because you see diversity is the watered-down concept that replaced affirmative action. Affirmative action did at least have some “proto” associations with law. When Johnson stands there at that podium at Howard University to talk about affirmative action. He is talking about something that may, he hopes, have some legal binding. Goals and timetables. These were the things that were being taught and it was being thought about as something specific to a group of people whose movement and advancement through the society had been hampered by racism and white supremacy, right? So diversity know that’s fuzzy loosey-goosey stuff. Right? Absolutely. So that’s what you give instead of legal protection. But as you know sentiment can be proffered, or withdrawn. Sentiment, you know, no one is I can love you today. I mean children give you the quick fast dirty lesson into this. You know, you know how they get in their phases, “where I don’t love you. I hate you, you know,” they think you know love can be withdrawn and when you’re not getting me the Xbox I hate you. Sentiment is completely voluntary. You know, who you love, when you love, how you I mean that there is no legal protection in sentiment. And that is what slavery sought to give people it held captive. You know, not legal protection. Not even functioning as legal beings not even being able to testify against people in law. You do not exist. You do not have property in your person. You are not a legal. I mean slavery is a legal category. Yes, it is a legal category and again the wiliness of white supremacy, you know, you may not have inherited this money over here because your status as a captive person comes through your mother, right? It is it’s wiley. It is completely wiley. You will be perpetually a slave. This is your legal category, but you will you have no legal protections.  You can lay no claims to Thomas Jefferson’s wealth and property and money. So yeah, but we don’t want to have these conversations. These conversations fall on the ears of the likes of Teresa Sullivan as inflammatory, you know. And it seems to me that it is only if when we talk about “we need to have a conversation about race.” No, we don’t. I mean people talk about racism in the egregious manifestations of racism, which actually kills people as if you know, okay come into my parlor. Here’s a Sherry would like some Sherry. What would you like? I mean if this is just polite. I have always resented the idea that we are going approach these serious issues through the rhetoric of conversation, right? Again, I think it should be completely possible to talk about the language and rhetoric that is that incentivizes change as almost of necessity needing to be strident. What does it get us? So we can agree to disagree all of these mollifying terminologies that we invent and summon, right? And so, yeah you who has the kind of disposition to mollification. If you are from my background in your background, you don’t have the disposition to mollification. Why would you?

NH: well, when you have all the privilege, why wouldn’t you tell everybody else calm down! Would you like some of this? I’m gonna have a glass and also, it’s not a big deal. there’s no reason to get so upset it’s like because whoever gets to decide whether or not to even have the conversation is coming from that position of privilege  

DMcD: And so these people then want to order because in the emotional labor, we are expected to perform in the face of these crises which are not of our making but somehow, we’re expected to stop exactly what we’re doing and go and give a lecture. And I have been refusing to do that of late because all of that is busy work. And all of that functions in relation to the machinery of diversity so that you constantly you can appeal to things you’re doing, right?  We did this. We are building the memorial. We change the name of Barringer Hall. We are doing things because the university needs to at least provide its public the appearance of working toward change, but the appearance of working toward change is highly symbolic. Now symbolism has its place I would be the first to say that. But basically to mount a campaign of transformation around symbol alone is to be mounting something on very friable ground. I mean, it’s not just about changing the names of buildings. And I say to people on the day that the name of Barringer Hall was named to Pinn Hall, then somebody should have been ready with 15 med school scholarships. It’s easy to do these things and that we cannot.  

NH: They don’t cost anything.

DMcD: They don’t cost anything. We cannot keep falling for the okey-doke. And we really do need to say until you do this because people do this all the time. I mean, how is it I heaven forbid that I should say this out loud because then I’ll be fired from the University because this will be read as anti-semitic but there are all of these things we can and cannot say about Israel. You cannot say anything in support of Palestinians that is not then presumed to be… So who then has free speech? Well Marc Lamont Hill learned pretty quickly that he doesn’t have free speech, right? Talk Tucker Carlson and that crew can say whatever they want to say. But you cannot say anything about Palestinians without then having the yoke of anti-Semitism hung around your neck. And so it seems to me that in the same way that people say until which time like I’m already looking at all of the things… Today, I’m sure you must have read it where we cannot do international business with this country, that country, and the other country and that if we do we’re liable for this that and the other I didn’t read it closely but people all the time say until Syria changes its human rights policies. We will not do business with Syria. I think black people in these institutions need to say until you are really serious about change deeply structural change not fringe change, no don’t count on me to come to the to the teach-in. I’m not… That is more work for me. And so.

NH: To your point, I think this institution in these symbolic tangential ways is attempting to deal with the problem of white supremacy on the backs of black bodies. And that is not the solution, right? White supremacy is a white problem. And so to say let’s get the handful black and brown folks we have and make them do the labor to present an outward image that suggests we’re doing something is in a itself entirely problematic, incorrect solution to a very large problem

DMcD: Absolutely and then to pay people. To pay people I met with a group of people last weekend. They had been in the workshop. I don’t know if you were in the workshop last summer on teaching race, but basically I told them you know, when I talk to people I really like them to know what my positions are so would mean it’s truth in advertising. So I do not need to speak to you Dorothy Bach asked me to, but you here, I need to tell you I oppose that initiative and I need to tell you why I oppose that initiative. What does it mean to say: we are going to take this extreme moment as a time to look at our racial history? And that all the while we are starving entities of the University that have been doing this work since their inception. We’re actually going to pay people who don’t think about it. I mean to me there was something grossly wrong with that picture and then that who was consulted? In the face of it on the local television was a group of white people. This is deeply problematical. And so, how do you say what is it and how insulting to say: you can bring everybody up to speed who is going to go into a classroom come September in a week’s time. People have devoted their entire scholarly careers to this. So to me that was looking at race in a cheap way in an insulting way in a way that did not compel me to take anything seriously. So when I hear from you that it was not successful. I am not surprised because it is….It’s it’s… The likelihood that it would not be successful was already built into its very conception. Right. And that when you are trying to do something just to be doing. This is the thing and that’s what I kept saying sometimes in the face of certain kinds of crises, you just need to be still. You know? And for many people that is an abdication of a kind of political responsibility. Maybe it will be in some instances. It may be not in others, but I was brought up by people– my great-grandmother was one who said when people are going crazy around you and especially in any finite parameters. That is the time for you to be very still don’t take your eye off them. Just be very very still.  

JP: there’s an other Ellison quote that you have referenced in the past…. from the end of the invisible, Invisible Man: “hibernation….”

DMcD: Oh yes, “hibernation is covert preparation for more overt action,” right and and and he was right because this is the character it kind of thank you for reminding me of that because that line in the novel comes from the narrator. But the narrator is referring to this character called “Ras The Exhorter.” So Ras spends his days on various soap boxes in Harlem exhorting. All right. And so in one of these exhortations a rioter erupts. And so Ras is running underground and he’s down there underground in a cellar or cave being lit by the Electrical Company unbeknownst to the electrical company. And so the narrator says hibernation is covert preparation for more overt action. Yeah, and I do believe that.  Because there will always be people who are you know, the shock troops people who are on the front lines. I mean when you think about transformation when you think about Revolution, this is a constant struggle. When Angela Davis and borrowing from the anonymous voices of the many thousand gone “freedom is a constant struggle.” That’s what she meant. So you cannot be in this struggle without taking some time out. And you got to take some time out to strategize to think because again white supremacy has you locked in reactive mode. And when you were constantly in reactive mode, you will be worn out absolutely. You will be worn out and I think that that’s a part of its ingenuity as well. You keep on reacting. You keep on believing that there is something you must do, right. Now how many teach-ins have we had? How long have we been talking about teach-ins at least since Berkeley in the 1960s? Where are we now? We have had teach-ins. The latest incarnation is the syllabus for this that and the other. Also as if simply learning about something is the root of transformation. Learning is essential, but this is not work that is going to be done at the level of the classroom. It’s not going to be done at the level of the syllabus. It’s going to be the classroom and the syllabus in tandem with a whole bunch of other things. And if it is the syllabus it’s going to need to be a syllabus that is truly disruptive or that at least has disruptive potential. And the potential to disrupt what’s being taught elsewhere. We don’t have any of these syllabi checking each other right? I’m sure there is a lot coming out of the History Department that I wouldn’t teach. I wouldn’t exposed to students. All right, but the again the additive philosophy. Because it’s at we’ve had the additive philosophy for a while, but it operates now in truly benign ways and seemingly magnanimous ways. By which I mean, you know have the Multicultural Center over here have La Rasa over here. Have the Latinx over here. So you have all of these, you know exhibitions of tolerance for difference, but they’re all in their own arenas that none of them and I think students have done a good job in some cases of combining forces to take on particular issues. I was quite impressed with a group that was working on the issue of tuition. They were very informed they did a lot of research but by and large you see even activism becomes a commodity. Even activism becomes commodified and so in many cases, this is not necessarily about change. This is about I am now on the platform. And I am in as the spokesperson who has the mic for now before I drop it a lot can come my way.  So people are actually making money you give and then again in fairness to the people who may have applied and wanted the $5,000. We are paid nine months out of the year, you know, not everybody is near retirement. Not everybody makes the money I do. So for many people in the summer, I’m sure $5,000 was like a lot of money. So I don’t begrudge them wanting that but there’s something bankrupt about wanting to teach people or introduce them to pedagogies of critique and resistance while basically telling the Woodson Institute you can live on starvation wages and whatever you want to do you can go cup in hand in get from people. But we’re going to drop five thousand dollars to forty people. And before that we have this fund so people are applying for money left and right there was a lot of money to be had. What if we had taken that money and began that use it as the basis of an endowment for Woodson. I gather Studies in Women and Gender is on course for endowment because there are a lot of lgbtq donors with deep pockets, so they are going to be endowed. So,. basically it because this is when you know of university is invested in seeing what you do as necessary at a foundational level to it’s very operations. Because institutions only endowed what they value. They endow what they value and that they didn’t endow the Julian Bond professorship until after he died is very very telling all right. So James unless you turn off the mic… I don’t know what has gotten into me.

JP: when you’re in… isn’t there something about getting the spirit or something.

DMcD: you know, I have been mild all day but somehow.  

JP: it’s the occasion of a good guest.  

DMcD: Yes.  

JP: a good conversation mate.  

DMcD: Yes. Noelle.  

NH: Well, you have the history. I mean, your… The experiences that you’ve had in this institution and I mean your personal struggle for this department, for this University, for these students for the faculty and staff. I mean. Yeah,  I could listen to you talk all day. I just think you’re coming from you know, such a wealth of expertise, but also just the experience that you’ve had here in the things that you’ve seen and this wiliness of white supremacy that you personally been battling within the confines of this institution for a long time now.

DMcD: A long time. And they are ready for me to be done fighting them. You know, they are so ready for me to be done battling and I just tell them, you know, you will mess right around and you know, don’t don’t bother me. I will retire when I’m good and ready, you know.  

NH: Well, this is why that legacy I mean it can’t… that can’t go when you go. Of course, you’re entitled to retirement and you know life after this and not to be, you know, confined to this experience forever. But the thinking more about how do we make sure that there’s this inner generational transmission and that there is this stability in the presence of that fight because and the wisdom that you have to offer so many of us who are just now entering into this space and the way that we need to attend to that and leverage that as we continue to move forward as opposed to, you know, showing up as if this work has not been happening for decades.  

DMcD: It has been happening for decades…

David Thorsen

David Thorsen: First off. Let me introduce myself. My name is David Thorsen. I’ll be your guide. How many of you been here before?

James Perla: Almost everyone.

DT: Yeah, almost everyone and uh, when did you arrive here today? You just get here now? Okay, great. My proposal is to find places where we can stay dry, does that sound okay? Sort of vary the traditional tour route with the weather in mind. Fair enough? Let me ask one more question. How many of you have visited the newly restored room that more fully explores the life of Sally Hemings? Anyone done that? All right. We’re going to go in there. We’re going to do that on our own privately. Okay sound good, right, great.

[Walking until 1:50]

JP: So we did get to see the fog, it’s really dramatic. Oh my gosh, normally can see for miles.

[Inaudible conversation until 2:52]

DT: What do you think? This building’s about 11 foot by 14 foot. It’s got a second-story loft up there and typically up to a dozen people would call this home. Now this structure is very typical on any plantation in Virginia. You find houses, homes like this for the enslaved community and just think about this structure compared to the great house Monticello above us. This structure is about 1/4 of the size of just the entrance hall of the great house. We’re going to talk about the Hemings family and during the time we spend together I’d really like to have a dialogue. So if you got a question, that’s why I’m here. Don’t be shy. We’re going to talk about race and we’re going to talk about entanglement, we’re going to talk about struggle, we’re going to talk about legacy. Now when I say race, is that a scientific concept?

Deborah McDowell: No

DT: It’s a social construct.

All: Yes

DT: So it does exist even though it’s not scientifically valid. When I talk about entanglement what do I mean? The lives of the people who are free here at Monticello and the lives of the people who are enslaved here at Monticello are all tangled up. And the Hemings family is particularly tangled up with the Jefferson family. And when I talk about struggle, what do I mean? The system of slavery is all about what? It’s about exploiting people, about excluding people, it’s about inequality. It’s about owning people as property.

DM: Containing their movement, containing their freedom.

DT: Containing their movement. It’s a system of real and threatened violence; physical force, psychological force. [5:00] It’s a system justified even by people like Thomas Jefferson who know it’s wrong by doing what? By rationalizing, by creating a system, by advancing the idea that the humanity of those who are enslaved can be denied to justify what? The system of slavery. But for those who are enslaved, what’s the struggle about? Retaining dignity, affirming humanity, holding on to hope that one day perhaps all those words in that Declaration of Independence might apply in the broadest possible fashion. And how about legacy? Does Thomas Jefferson leave us a legacy?

DM: He leaves us the legacy of democracy, compromise, for one thing

DT: How about the words in the Declaration of Independence?

DM: The words of the Declaration are in tension with the realities of the descendants of the enslaved and many others, but certainly since we’re talking about slavery; incompatible. Those words are incompatible with and have had a lasting effect on the lives of the descendants of the enslaved.

DT: So what I would tell you is that Jefferson leaves us a dual legacy. He wrote the words of the Declaration of Independence. How many of you have read the only book that Jefferson wrote called Notes on the State of Virginia and read query 14. What does he say in that query?

DM: Many things. I’m talking too much.

DT: I mean you’ve read it, were you disturbed by what you read if you read query 14, what’s he saying? He’s saying horrible things about human beings!

DM: And attempting to rationalize those horrible things by resorting to pseudo-scientific language.

DT: Scientific racism, which are two words, two words that don’t actually connect to each other, right? A contradiction.

DM: Which is why pseudo is much more accurate. It’s not science, it’s pseudoscience.

DT: Yes ma’am. Absolutely. So yeah, we’re going to talk about all these things. So let’s let’s talk about the Hemings family, let’s talk about how they find themselves on this Monticello Plantation. Jefferson marries in 1772. He marries Martha Wayles Skelton. He’s actually her second husband her first husband died, but she’s the daughter of John Wayles who is a slave trader and when John Wayles dies Jefferson inherits the Hemings family. Elizabeth Hemings is the matriarch of the family. And so she has 12 children over the course of her lifetime. And what’s unusual in some ways about the Hemings family when John Wayles dies is that family arrives here intact, they’re not sold off and broken up. So that is one of the keys to our knowledge about the Hemings family is the survival of that family as an intact family when Elizabeth hemings arrives here. Twelve children; six of those children are the children of John Wayles, one of those children Sally Hemings. What does that mean? Jefferson’s wife… Sally hemings. They’re half sisters. Now thats what am I talking about when I say entangled from the very beginning. So now imagine owning members of your family has property. And the Hemings family, we know more about this family than we know probably about any other enslaved family in the United States because of the rich oral tradition that they pass on to us and because of Jefferson’s writings in the writings of others regarding Monticello. They’re the largest enslaved family here. Over the course of his lifetime Jefferson owned over 80 members of the Hemings family and when he died one third of the people enslaved at Monticello were members of the Hemings family. Jefferson owned over his entire lifetime, he owned 607 human beings. How many people did he free?

All: Five

DT: Ah,  I’m gonna give you a different answer. I’m gonna say ten: five in his lifetime, five in his will. Of course all ten people are members of the Hemings family. That’s it.

JP: So I do have a question because in the video, um, when there’s talk about slavery at Monticello it says that there are 143 enslaved peoples? So I’m wondering about that discrepancy.

DT: Sure, that’s a great question. So let’s talk about the difference between lifetime ownership and then the number of enslaved people here at any given time. And 140-150 is a pretty good number at any at any given time. So you can think about roughly 175 people total on the plantation, two-thirds [10:00] of those people are the enslaved African Americans who are working the plantation, who are building the great house. And one of the other things to think about during our time together, um, I always ask myself the question who is trying to control the narrative? Does that make any sense to you?

DM: Oh, yeah.

DT: Yeah. So let’s take an example of then. John and Priscilla Hemings. John Hemings, thats Sally hemings younger brother. He’s the master woodworker here. His wife Priscilla Hemings is the nanny to Jefferson’s own grandchildren, but they’re not owned by Thomas Jefferson. He owns John Hemings, his son-in-law Thomas Mann Randolph owns Priscilla Hemings. So imagine a husband and wife owned by different people. Is that a problem? It’s certainly a problem when the Randolph’s are at Edgehill across the Rivanna River and this husband and wife are physically separated from each other until 1809 when the Randolph family moves to Monticello. If you read the memories of the Randolph children, Thomas Jefferson’s grandchildren, about John and Priscilla Hemings the story you here I would tell you is one of Moonlight and Magnolias. What are they telling us? What do they call John and Priscilla Hemings, do they call Priscilla Hemings? Priscilla? They called her mammy. What do they call John Hemings? Daddy. Right? So there’s this familiarity being created but is it two ways or one way?I cannot tell you what John and Priscilla Hemings thought about the world in which they lived because they never revealed their true feelings. So the Narrative of their story is being controlled by others. But imagine Priscilla Hemmings despite those grandkids saying things remembering her thousand little kindnesses. What’s the possibility she could be inherited by one of those grandkids taken away, who knows where separated from her husband forever? That’s some of the reality. All right. Let’s go have a look at that new exhibit dedicated to the life of Sally Hemings.


[Enter Sally Hemings exhibit, ends at 21:15]

DT: I had a great question: why did we pick that room? Thomas Jefferson’s grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, pointed out to one of Jefferson’s biographers. They were walking around here at Monticello and he pointed that direction at those two rooms right there and said that that is where Sally Hemings lived. So it’s one of those two rooms we don’t know which so we chose one. What do we do with the room right next door? That is dedicated to a project began 25 years ago called Getting Word. It’s the oral history of the descendents of those once enslaved here at Monticello. So one of those two rooms we had to pick was occupied by Sally Hemings. So a great question. What else what do you think? Are you unpacking what we saw? So you know who, where those words come? From her son, Madison Hemings, 1873 when he was interviewed. There’s an awful lot of information in that very short period of time he’s telling us lots and lots of things, isn’t it? About the connection between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. I used the word connection. Why? What other word could I use? If I use the word relationship would that…? Would that create a sense of something that might not be happening?

DM: Yes and no. Because there are obviously lots of relationships. So in the most descriptive sense like we are in a relationship right now. We are in relation to each other. We’re in physical proximity to each other. So if we don’t attach contemporary ideological meanings to the term ‘relationship’ we can in fact use it.

DT: As long as we’re clear about what we mean. So I say connection to start off at conversation, that dialogue about trying to unpack. We know what Madison Hemings told us so that gives us some perspective. We also have the perspective of the descendants of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings and I’ll share their perspectives. Some of those descendants see a love affair between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. other descendants see something much much different than a love affair. They see the opposite. Other descendants a young woman trying to navigate the world of slavery in such a way that as her son Madison says, creates a treaty with Jefferson that allows what? Allows your children to become free. So. There’s multiple answers to this question. Which answer is right? I would tell you that no one, no one knows, no one knows so we’re left with that. What I can, I think tell you for certain is that there is always an imbalance of power between these two people. One is the master. The other is his property. So any other vision of this connection, of this relationship has to begin, I think, with that foundation of understanding [25:00]  this lifelong imbalance of power between these two people. Does that all make sense? Yeah, come on this way.

[Walking, shuffling]

JP: All right. So, now we’re walking up to the main house by kind of from the side up from what they called the dependencies. Hey good to see you. And this is an approach to the main house. Looks like we’re circling back towards the entrance. Uh, yeah.

DT: Over the course of time is really members of the Hemings family who take up positions of relative privilege on this Monticello Plantation. So Jefferson’s making choices about the people who are enslaved here. In the case of the Hemings family, he is literally aligning that family with his own family. So what do you think? Is it typical or not typical on a Virginia Plantation on any Southern plantation for the master to select one family from the enslaved community and then align that family with his own family?

[Inaudible answers]

DT: You think it’s not typical? It’s relatively common. It’s relatively common for this to occur and you’ll find that in primary source evidence when you when you look at plantation history that it’s actually not unusual for one family to be, now, is it that enslaved family’s choice? That alignment? No.

[Inaudible comment]

DT: Yeah. Yeah, so it’s the norm and that’s how the Hemings family they find themselves in that position.

DM: Well then the question is, why would they find themselves in that situation?

DT: It’s a really great question. So, why would that be? Could it be the connection to Jefferson’s wife, to her family and to the role that they played in his wife’s family that this is a long-standing alignment? I think that that’s a factor. Could it be other factors? Could it be but it even be the color of someone’s skin driving that choice. Particularly if you are going to describe the people working in the house not as your slaves, but as your servants. You can create a bit of an Illusion by doing that. So, we talked about Sally Hemings. I want to talk about four other members of the Hemings family real quick before we step into the house. I want to talk about Sally Hemings older brothers Martin, Robert and James Hemings and about her nephew Burwell Colbert. So when you stop and think about it, when the Hemings family is inherited by Thomas Jefferson, there are members of the Hemings family literally at his side all the way up to the point of his death. In the job today you and I call the butler. Martin Hemings, Robert Hemings, James Hemings, Burwell Colbert; all served in these capacities. These three brothers, Martin, Robert, and James, at some point in time all three of them defy Thomas Jefferson. So can you imagine that? Imagine an enslaved person defying their master? Martin Hemings in 1792 has some sort of an argument, a falling out with Thomas Jefferson such that Martin Hemings says sell me to anyone. [30:00] Anyone other than you. What’s going on there? I don’t know. We do not know what happened to Martin Hemings. There is no record of sale. There is no record of Martin Hemings running away. The very last reference to Martin Hemings is in January of 1795 three years after this incident. And in that time Martin Hemings has been, hid the problem of Martin Hemings has been handed off to Jefferson son-in-law Thomas Mann Randolph, and we literally don’t know what happened to Martin. So it’s speculation. Some people think that he might have died or that that he ran without pursuit or that perhaps Thomas Mann Randolph simply allowed him to disappear. It’s a mystery. We do know what happened to Robert and James Hemings. Robert Hemings now becomes the butler and then his younger brother, James takes on that role. Robert and James Hemings are both legally freed by Thomas Jefferson, right? A letter of manumission recorded in the courthouse. Legal freedom. Robert Hemings gains his freedom in 1794, James Hemings in 1796. Robert Hemings, he’s in Philadelphia as a 14 year-old teenager. And what’s his job? He’s Jefferson’s butler in Philadelphia in 1776, but when Jefferson goes to France, 1784 to 1789, he doesn’t take Robert with him. He takes James to France to do what? To have him trained to be a French chef. That means Roberts back here being rented out. He was rented out to a doctor. Dr. Frederick Stross. Dr. Stross owned a woman named Dolly. Well Robert Hemings in Dolly fell in love with each other, but then Dr. Stross and Robert Hemings come up with an idea that if Jefferson can be convinced to free Robert Hemings at the price that he would have bought at an auction that Dr.Stross will allow Robert Hemings to work off, like he was an indentured servant, and then both he and his wife Dolly would become free. What do you think Jefferson thought about that idea? Woohoo? He accused Robert of disloyalty and he accused Dr. Stross of Jefferson’s words: debauching. What does that mean? He’s gonna be, he’s being stolen. But he does free Robert Hemings. And I want to tell you the story of James Hemings’ freedom a bit later. So we’ve got these three cases of people who defy Jefferson, but how about the case of Burwell Colbert? What… if you’re navigating the world of slavery, what choices do you have? Do you have any choices? You have very few, but you do have some choices. Burwell Colbert has the example of his brothers, but he come takes a completely different approach. He aligns himself with the entire Jefferson family in such a way that he becomes indispensable to them. You’ll even find letters where they’re talking about their inability, they can’t, they don’t know how to make coffee without Burwell Colbert. If Burwell Colbert is at Poplar Forest, 90 miles from here, and the rest of the family’s here, they’re all complaining about what? That Jefferson is gone? No! That Burwell Colbert is gone and the house is falling apart. The other thing to think about when you look at the house, when people come up here and look at the house, you know, obviously they think of Thomas Jefferson because he is the self-taught architect. He designed the house, he designed the grounds, the lawn, the range of the University of Virginia, designed the state capitol in Richmond. He’s the architect but I would stop and think about something else. Who built that house? The lawn, the range of the University of Virginia?

DM: Captives.

DT: Right, people held in bondage against their will. Yeah, there’s a small group of white craftsman, but the vast majority of people building this great house are members of Monticello enslaved community. So when you look at this house, think of the craftsmanship, think of the level of effort [35:00] erecting those stone columns, right? All this amazing architecture inspired by the temples of Rome. Jefferson’s the architect but whose executing those ideas? So in a lot of ways this house is a testament to Monticello’s enslaved community. It reflects their efforts, but who gets the credit? Jefferson.

JP:I wonder if you could talk a bit more about, you mentioned families and how families were kind of used at Monticello. I wonder if you can talk about kind of the role of like family structures in the plantation system?

DT: Sure, let’s do that. So when you stop and think about it, you know, the very first institution re-established by those brought here in bondage against their will from West Africa was the institution of family. So family bonds become critical and those family bonds can also be manipulated by the master. The fear of separation, the fear of sale, the fear of a husband and wife that their child might be given away as a gift or a present taken to to Tennessee or Kentucky or Florida. Right? But family is crucial in many ways to the survival of members of the enslaved community because that’s where safety is that’s where knowledge is passed on. And what kind of knowledge am I talking about? Perhaps the knowledge of how to navigate the system, perhaps the knowledge to read and to write with or without the approval of the master.

JP: And so how did Jefferson use family structures to manipulate them?

DT: Yeah. Let’s think about that too. What does Jefferson do, you know when at the very beginning here in Monticello um men and women enslaved people were kept in barracks, but he went to what we call nuclear family, single family housing. Why would he do that? Well, these relationships formed between people; husbands and wives. And if you’re in your own home, what’s the likelihood what’s going to happen? Children? Which means what to Jefferson? More property? So there is some manipulate, you know, there is a bit of manipulation going on there. So Jefferson, very clearly recognizes the role in the importance of family and how that can be used by him.

JP: And keeping families together? Is that seen as something to make them…

DT: Keeping families together, you know, when he buys he’s not a slave trader, but he generally would buy to unite or reunite a family but he’s going to sell those very same families as his lifestyle dictates, so he sees that importance of family and and you know family is important to all of us, right? But if but if you’re part of an intact family, are you more or less likely to run away? You’re not going to run away from your responsibilities from your loved ones. So there’s a two-way street here. I mean family’s invaluable, but it can be used to control, right?

[Walking, other tour guide speaking]

DT: The audio obviously is fine but when we go in the house itself, we don’t own everything so there’s no photography in the house. So, what’s on your mind? What else? I’ve been doing all the talking here and I can’t be that fascinating.

Josh St. Hill: So I guess one of my questions would be um, as far as like Thomas Jefferson and like how he chose to buy and sell slaves I know a lot of the like a lot of those slaves were acquired because of like his like recurrent debt that he had. He wasn’t like able to make good business decisions and I would say did that like really like affect his decisions to on like what slaves am I getting? Who am I freeing? Or like how

DT: His debt, his constant problem of debt is a tremendous influence on who he’s choosing to to sell. So he’s making a calculation. On a person’s relative value.

JP: So do you have any specific examples of that? [40:00]

[Pause for tour group]

JP: Yeah, it’s there a specific example of say when he sold to recoup or to make good on his debts?

DT: Sure, when he, when he is, when he’s in France as minister, ambassador to France is when he realizes just how heavily in debt he is and so he’s making calculations about who’s going to give him the the most value. A woman named Dinah who was a was a cook has tremendous value. So he’s making a very specific set of offers trying to sell Dinah to maximize.

JP: So was not the best businessman?

DT: He had a lifestyle problem. That’s the end of the, at the end of the day, look at this place.

DM: He had a bad fiscal manager. As we say, these days, he had a champagne taste on a beer pocket, but he didn’t exactly have to be a pocketbook. But he always live beyond his means.

DT: So take a look around the room. What do you think’s going on? Jefferson, a man of the Age of Enlightenment, knowledge is power. He’s got knowledge on display all around us. Have a look at the clock above the door. Jefferson designed the clock. It was made for him in Philadelphia in 1804. This clock was installed in that position by John Hemings and by an Irishman named James Dinsmore. Burwell Colbert probably watched this clock go up. You think Burwell Colbert had any idea what he’d be doing every Sunday for the next 25 years? Winding that clock. That’s the ladder used to wind the clock. Those are cannonball weights. They weigh 18 pounds a piece and the calendar system of the clock is right here as well. So it’s Tuesday afternoon. That’s what the top weight tells us. But if you take a look you’ll see that Jefferson had a problem, ran out of wall. That’s why Saturday’s under the house, why the weights travel right through the holes in the floorboards and on Sunday mornings around 6 a.m. it takes around 12 to 15 minutes apiece to crank all those weights up. So when you see all these Native American objects, what do you think? Who do you think of? Two men exploring the West leading a journey, Lewis and Clark? I think of Sacagawea? Does anyone think of York? Owned by William Clark makes that 8,000 mile round trip Journey, saves William Clark’s life. He’s important, essential, an indispensable member of that Lewis and Clark expedition; York. Can you imagine York here in 1806 talking to Burwell Colbert about what he’d experienced and what he’d seen? Can you imagine the conversation might have taken place as they compare notes on their experiences? And the other thing that we notice in this room is Jefferson’s never-ending search and thirst for knowledge, natural History lesson. That’s why the horns and antlers are there the fossils found on the banks of the Ohio river in 1807 by William Clark. He’s a man of the Enlightenment; knowledge is power. He’s also going back to Greek and Roman history as the Cradle of Western Civilization as a resource and as an inspiration. He’s tracing himself and his present day as what? The descendant of the Greeks and Romans and the civilization in created but if you read notes on the state of Virginia, what does Jefferson say about his interest in African culture and history? Does express any desire to know about Mali, about Timbuktu about the empires of Africa? He completely ignores any evidence of black culture and achievement and says he’s going to deal with the blacks he observes them where they are. Where are they in Virginia? What is he observed? People who are enslaved, not their cultures. So, you know in Timbuktu was a was a huge capital of 50,000 people as its population, London’s a backwater, but Jefferson’s not interested in that. A man of the Enlightenment. What’s he doing? Is he rejecting knowledge? Because it doesn’t fit the narrative?

JP: Can you talk a bit about how his study um of the natural world like intersects with his ideas about race and maybe cultural…

DT:  When you think about the Age of Enlightenment, when knowledge and ideas are competing and exploding all around Jefferson, he draws the conclusion that the American mastodon is extinct. Based on the knowledge [45:00] that he’s assembled. He’s in a competition with a Frenchman named the Comte de Buffon. The Comte de Buffon advances the idea that not only animals but human beings in North America, because of North America’s temperature, climate, and geography, will degrade over time and become shorter and less intelligent than Europeans. And what does Jefferson do to disprove that idea? He collects all these horns and antlers, he sends animal specimens to Buffon to show him these creatures are as big or bigger than the ones in Europe and advances the idea that the Native American population is a version of the Western European population needing only education and to be assimilated. But what are his conclusions about blacks? The exact opposite. Why? Does he own Native Americans? He owns human beings; African-Americans. So the enlightenment is turned inside out. He’s claiming he’s using science. But as we said it’s pseudoscience.

JP: Yeah, that’s so that’s so interesting. So he’s out there comparing who’s groundhog is bigger.

DT: Exactly right weighing these creatures exactly what he’s doing.

DT: You may well be familiar with this image. Anyone seen this image before?

JP: Wikipedia Commons.

DT: So John Trumbull’s ingra… the portrait Asher Duran’s engraving. Jefferson, what’s he doing? Turning in his homework project. But we were talking earlier. Just think about this in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania who is fetching pen and paper and ink for Jefferson?

That’s Robert Hemings and he’s just 14 years old. So imagine Jefferson writing, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal” and 14 year old Robert Hemings is in the very same room. Do those words apply to him? 20% of the population of what is going to be the United States are held in bondage when Jefferson writes those very words. So there’s a contrast. Come on in. I want to talk more about family.

DM: Who were the individuals flanking the hallway?

DT: Oh the buses here?

DM: No, no. No the people.

DT: Oh they’re my fellow guides. Oh, he’s getting ready to go out and do a tour. She’s in waiting to go out and do a tour. Well, so yeah. Sorry about. A tour goes through the house.

JP: Every five minutes?

DT: Yeah

JP: Wow, yeah. As you said there’s good acoustics in this room.

DT: So we were just really kind of getting into a discussion talking about family dynamics and the role and so let’s let’s kind of break that down a little more. I wanted to maybe we should talk about house and field that make any sense when I say house and field what am I talking about?

JSH: House slaves and field slaves.

DT: Yeah. So let me ask you this: Is it better to be in the house or better to be in the field?

JSH: I’d say it depends on the perspective.

DT: Okay. So yeah, let’s unpack that.

JSH: Um, so of course, like if you’re working in the field, it’s a lot tougher on your body. I guess the physical conditions but as far as being like a house slave as far as being like an African-American and knowing like your self-identity and your self-worth that can deteriorate depending on the psychological issues that you face living in the house. Um, and of course, you can be a victim of sexual abuse because you’re a house slave, you know house slaves are fairly lighter, um better complexion as far as like from Caucasian perspective or slave master perspective. Um, whereas field plays of course are going through a lot of that physical torture that house slaves don’t have to face.

DT: Yeah. So proximity can be perilous even though you’re better fed, better dressed. You’re always under the eye of the master and his family. You may be more liable to exploit physical exploitation, of course out in the field you’ve got that overseer. So there’s that physical violence, but then again, there’s only one overseer, but if you’re in the house, I mean, there’s, it’s not only Jefferson. There’s two dozen members of his family in this house. So, who are you taking orders from? Anybody who has a [50:00] demand and of course generally speaking those working outside working in the field when the Sun goes down. The day is over and the time is your own until the sun rises again. So there’s there’s a relatively large block of time that you can call your own as opposed to being in the great house where in any time of day demands could be placed on you. So I really appreciate that because you know often times when you ask people who haven’t reflected haven’t thought through they think what a wonderful thing to be in the house and they don’t break down the the very unpleasant possibilities that could attend being in the house. So I never think it’s better or worse, but it certainly different. Although let me ask you this. So from the perspective of an individual working 14 hours a day, or sunrise to sunset, hard labor in the fields and seeing in this case because of the size of the Hemings family could be Hemings family members in the fields knowing that their cousins or brothers or sisters or aunts were in the house. What would your attitude be? Jealousy? Because because you believe that where they are is more advantageous? Jefferson’s grandson Thomas Jefferson Randolph said that the position of the Hemings family at Monticello in his words was a source of bitter jealousy among the rest of the enslaved population, but then I kind of think through this a little more and asked myself the question: If you are trying to create divisions within the enslaved community, if you’re trying to create a hierarchy as another means of control, that’s a pretty good way to do them right to create division, disunity within that population of people and how could you do that? How about the color of skin? Could that be used as a way to manipulate people because Jefferson we know from visitors coming to Monticello that virtually every single person enslaved person Hemings family member or not chosen to work in the house was lighter in color.

DM: And some were indistinguishable from whites.

DT: Oh indeed. Some mistaken or not mistaken for Jefferson’s own children.

DM: And his political opponents made that very clear.

JP: Yeah. I wonder if you can talk about more to about that moment when um, and this kind of combines family and business, of when uh of when the um, I guess it was Isaac Jefferson observes, maybe after Jefferson’s death observes families being sold away to kind of pay back his um his debts. I wonder if you can speak about that a little bit.

DT: Oh sure. I will. Maybe we’ll wait for a little when we talk about following Jefferson’s death. What happens to Monticello’s enslaved family? There’s some pretty compelling stories. This is Jefferson’s private suite. These are three rooms all connected together. So Jefferson’s interests are on display his love of learning through the books, architecture, a regulator; that clock ought to be in an observatory not a private home all these scientific instruments and of course you probably recognize this. One of the original blueprint drawings of the Lawn the range of the University of Virginia. So Jefferson believes that knowledge is power, safety and happiness. Tells his friend James Madison preach a crusade against ignorance. Education he believes is an absolute necessity to the survival of the new nation. Does Jefferson theories and ideas and faith and education extend to the enslaved community?

DM: Did they you’re asking?

DT: Yeah did they? Did Jefferson build a school here to educate those he enslaved? No, never. Monticello’s enslaved community in some cases are remarkably well trained, but is there a difference between training and education? If you are trained you are trained to do something. [55:00]  If you are educated, it’s about thinking critically thinking on your own. So there’s a real distinction and you know, Jefferson’s words and Notes on the State of Virginia I always contrast with with what he had to observe that’s completely opposite from the words that he wrote. Just talk about John Hemings. Jefferson said I advance as a suspicion that the blacks are inferior to the whites in the endowments of body and mind but it’s John Hemings building. This is pretty cool this elliptical arch but who do you think with that keystone in it? So this is from Jefferson’s blueprints. But who made this? That’s John Hemings and James Dinsmore. Does that look like the result of someone who is limited in the endowments of body and mind? He’s got to read those blueprints translate those blueprints into reality from nothing. What? From just raw lumber. Jefferson said that he observed that these are his words the griefs of blacks are transient. What does he mean? He means that if a parent is separated from from their children in a couple days, they’ll forget completely about. But John Hemings could read and could write and he’s helping he’s building Poplar Forest down in Bedford County. He’s writing letters to Jefferson. He’s almost always asking in those letters if he can come home for just a little while for what reason? To see his wife Priscilla. He’s grieving for his wife.

DM: Just point out one thing through to the students. James have all the students seeing the prison drawings?

JP: Uh, some have.

HC: I have.

JP: Hahna knows them quite well.

DM: Well we should circulate them. If we could just go over right here I don’t want to usurp your duties but I’m really struck by the resemblance between, I mean not point for point and line for line, but if you just do a quick look at that drawing and a quick look at the prison drawings, you’ll immediately see a kind of cursory resemblance. And so I’d just like the students to keep that floating around in their minds and when Angela Davis was at UVA she observed that the rooms on flanking the lawn were very carceral in nature. She says they’re carceral like so it’s just an observation. I want the students to see the similarities. Um, you know, not one to one, point by point, but the kind of superficial, um, visual similarities between.

JP: Do you have any thoughts Hahna?

HC: Yeah. And just like how the open space at the gardens are the are what resemble like the separation of the cells in the prison drawing. Which I find very interesting.

JP: Can you describe the drawing?

HC: Well the prison, it was just like I think like maybe six to eight separate cells and they were separated by both race and gender and then right at the top where the Rotunda would be was a solitary confinement cell. But yeah, I agree. It was very similarly laid out.

DT: So rather disturbing parallels to institutions. Both begun for what we’re supposed to be progressive and benign reasons.

DM: We get so little attention to this aspect of Jefferson’s architectural genius and that although those drawings were never executed, the prison drawings, which are in the Massachusetts Historical Society, Jefferson was himself in close contact with the leading prison architects of the day. So those drawings meant to be the blueprint for what would have been the first penitentiary in Virginia were not executed but what was executed was definitely executed with the involvement of Jefferson directly and indirectly.

JP: Is that fair to say Hahna? Our prison expert from your research here?

HC: Yeah. I think that’s fair to say and I think Jefferson wrote himself that Latrobe who ended up designing the penitentiary like may not have followed it like directly in design. But like in I guess what Professor McDowell was saying like in it’s like like theory and application and then he went on to provide the designs for two prisons in Virginia later.

JP: Jefferson.

HC: Jefferson did.

DM: So, Jefferson is to put it succinctly as the architect and exponent of the Enlightenment. Jefferson is present at the birth of the prison and though we can’t possibly talk about prison in the 18th century in the same way we talk about it now, as we really imagine the genealogy [1:00:00] of incarceration we have to, Jefferson has to be in the mix. So sorry sir for interrupting.

DT: No, it’s a great conversation because it does it does take us back to this whole notion of a dual legacy being left behind by Jefferson because he really certainly in America is I mean, I would advance the idea that he is the first person in the history of the United States who is trying to create a scientific in his mind pseudo-scientific in our mind justification for racism as a means to justify the treatment of people by, he’s creating an other and if you create an other that allows you to do what? Other than me right? To do terrible things to people. So we trace mass incarceration today, do you go all the way back to the prison drawings as another example of this duel legacy that stands in contrast to religious freedom and the Declaration of Independence? You gotta wrestle with this difficult knowledge anytime you talk about Thomas Jefferson. Let’s talk about violence is violence part of the plantation system is there violence here at Monticello? You contrast the case of Burwell Colbert who Jefferson’s longest serving overseers, Edmund Bacon said Jefferson told Edmund Bacon that Burwell Colbert was to be absolutely accepted from the whip. But how about other members of the Hemings family? Certainly many other people on the Monticello Plantation, talk about Jamie Hemings, Burwell Colbert’s cousin. Jamie Hemings was being trained to be a woodworker by a man named James Oldham. He’s free. He’s white. Jamie Hemings got really sick excused from work, but who encounters Jamie Hemings not working? A man named Gabriel Lily hired by Jefferson as the head overseer despite Lily’s reputation for violence. And Lily beats Jamie Hemings three times in one day with a whip to the point where he can’t defend himself. He almost takes his life in the process of a beating of a teenager who’s sick. James Oldham writes a letter to Jefferson about this incident. He says Lily is frequently drunk, prone to violence, probably stealing from you. And this is not the first but the most recent incident that Lily’s cruelty. Jefferson didn’t fire Gabriel Lily. Lily did leave over wages wanted more money than Jefferson was willing to pay Jefferson needing a new head overseer wrote his son-in-law Thomas Mann Randolph I can never get a man who fulfills my purpose better than Lily does. So was Jefferson aware of the foundation of slavery based on violence? Certainly he is. What do you think Jamie Hemings did after that beating? He ran away and this is very rare Jefferson actually allowed Jamie Hemings to run. That’s not typical. That’s very unusual. So we talk about these five people freed in Jefferson’s life time. Jamie Hemings, not legally but informally freed, plus Robert and James, and you may recall from Madison Hemings’ recollections that his brother and sister Beverly and Harriet were allowed to disappear as well. So those are the five people in Jefferson’s lifetime that we talked about. What do you think Jefferson’s attitude was about about freed blacks? Positive or negative? Negative? You know what he said? He says free blacks are pests upon society. But he’s also come up with this solution. Right? What’s his solution?

JP: You’re using air quotes.

DT: To have the enslaved population freed at some future date, but freed on the condition that they either be transported to the West Indies or to West Africa again. The whole American Colonization Society in Liberia, his solution because what does he believe that that people can live in freedom together? No. Why not?

DM: He talks about the memories. The boisterous passions that have developed between [1:05:00] masters and slaves. That would never prevent, uh permit them to live in harmony or reconciliation.

DT: So what do you think?

DM: I think it’s interesting that he also uses the term boisterous passions especially in this context. Jefferson for one of the most interesting things to me about him rhetorically is what he reveals and the implications of what he reveals on many occasions. Whether in word choice or syntax that perhaps he did not intend to.

DT: One does find themselves saying do you realize just how ironic what he said or how contradictory or or the conclusions that modern-day audiences make about this? So you really do it really does beg the question for us today what’s Jefferson saying? I mean should we be about proving Jefferson wrong that that conclusion was 100% wrong that in fact people can if they choose to do so tear down the barriers that they themselves erected? These are all human institutions, right? That’s part of the struggle that we deal with today is is this whole system of slavery and the Legacy that leaves us. If you believe that this is the case are your actions going to reinforce that idea? So you have to ask that question too. And you see you have the case of you know, you ever heard of someone called Gideon Granger? There’s a homework project. Gideon Granger was the Postmaster General of the United States appointed by Thomas Jefferson. You know what Gideon Granger’s first action was as Postmaster General? To fire every free black riding for the u.s. Postal system. Why did he do that? Jefferson’s giving him permission to do that he wrote a letter about it. I’m not going to quote the whole thing. I’ll give you the very end. He said and this because these free blacks are literate and they’re riding, delivering the mail he said they will learn that a man’s rights do not depend on his color. How’s that for a justification to fire someone? Because they’re going to learn that those rights apply to everyone regardless of the color of their skin?

DM: And that won’t be the first time that a person who represents a state fires blacks from federal positions.

DT: Certainly, we’ve got the case of Woodrow Wilson.

DM: Woodrow Wilson is one of the most famous cases of such. And again you then think about what work in the government does to help lay the groundwork for an upwardly mobile class?

JP: So quick question while we have the benefit of being in the bedroom. I wonder if you could maybe just describe what we’re seeing here and one question I had with a poor segue with boisterous passions is that the relationship between Jefferson and Sally Hemings was clandestine. But like how did this work? Like did he sneak off and like do this whole thing?

DT: So first of all, where are? We’re in Jefferson’s bedchamber. So this is probably part of this three room private suite of Jefferson. His great Library, his office, he called that his cabinet with all these devices like the polygraph machine that makes a copy of every letter that Jefferson writes. We don’t know where Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson met each other where these pregnancies or these conceptions took place, but I will tell you this: There are seven independent ways in and out of this private Suite of rooms. Seven independent ways to get in and out of this set of rooms. Does that tell you something about Thomas Jefferson?

JP: Can we see some of the those?

[Other tour group speaking]

DM: The music room.

JP: Mhm. Are you okay on time?

DM: I’m not, I’m going to ask him. I need to be leaving by 2. You don’t have to interrupt the tour. I just need you to tell me when I should probably get back to get the bus. So as to be back by 2. Okay, thank you. 2:05 at the latest.

DT: So first off just take a look if you’ve been in the house, did you see these doors? Did you see how these doors operate? So let’s have another look but [1:10:00] can you imagine how many times Burwell Colbert closed these doors but he’s closing these doors into what I mean this really is a salon in Paris. That’s what it is. Jefferson’s recreating the Parisian Salon, a place of Music, a place of games, a place of art to spark conversation. He’s creating a whole world for himself because think about how strongly Jefferson and his family are influenced by the culture, the ideas, the food, the wine, of France. Then also Imagine who else is being influenced by France. James and Sally Hemings they’re there as well. And you recall from Madison Hemings recollections that that both James and Sally Hemings had they chosen to do so could have sued to become free legally free in France and yet both come back to America. Madison Hemings tells us it’s the treaty between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. We don’t know what James Hemings’ rationale was to to return perhaps it was an arrangement as well with Jefferson for some future freedom. And then the other thing I’m reminded of is that when Jefferson’s returning to the United States at 1789 which means what that the French Revolution has begun and staying in France as a free black at the beginning of the Revolution might have some downside because as we know later on Napoleon does do what? Reinstitutes the institution of slavery. So this is a very tumultuous a very risky fragile time. Question?

JP: Oh, um not at the moment. I mean a comment that that as a young person, uh, James and Sally Hemings, the assumption that one would just go out to free oneself to go to the local courthouse is a little bit. Yeah, you know in terms of saying, oh, well, they could have just wandered up to the courthouse and you know gained their freedom.

DT: That’s presuming that they had that knowledge. Madison says they did have that knowledge. But also to have gained freedom in France means freedom in France. It doesn’t mean freedom in the United States. It doesn’t mean you’re going to come free. What it also means if you stay in France, are you ever going to see your mom again? Are you ever going to see your family again? Are you ever going to see Virginia again? Even though you might be enslaved you can become attached to a physical place and think that it is home regardless of your circumstances. So I agree there’s a lot more to unpack than what today we can just well why didn’t they do that? They could have been free. It’s complicated when you start to break down all the parts of what Freedom meant in that sense as being free in Paris, but never being able to return in freedom to the United States.

[Group movement]

JP: Ah, the kitchen. The yellow right? It’s a really it’s just almost like glowing and it’s not even a sunny day. It’s quite overcast today.

[Overlapping conversation]

JP: Oh we need a picture. If only we could take a picture.

DT: Since you brought up the wall color, you want to talk about the wall color? Let’s do that.This is chrome yellow. It’s the first scientifically created paint pigment. So what’s Jefferson doing? This is not just fashion. This is science on display in a paint color. And of course, it does even on this cloudy rainy day make this room an inviting, bright place. It’s the dining room of Monticello, the food ways that Monticello became famous in Jefferson’s lifetime and that people write about even to the today talking about Jefferson is the first foodie in America. Let’s stop and think about that. Wait a minute who’s cooking the food? Who’s bringing the ideas? And combining the ideas of French, Virginia and West African food? It’s James Hemings. He’s combining all these three cultures into the food served at Monticello. He’s passing that knowledge on to his brother Peter Hemings and other people [1:15:00] Edith Fossett, I mentioned her name because she’s the wife of Joseph Fossett who’s also a member of the Hemings family. So the Hemings family in many ways are the pioneers of the food that Monticello becomes so famous for. There’s a restaurant here in Charlottesville called Fossetts. Who’s it named after Edith Fossett, Monticello’s cook in Jefferson’s retirement. Edith Fossett who is taught to be a French chef in the White House. James Hemings gains his freedom when he comes back to the United States. Of course, the capital is moving from New York to Philadelphia eventually to Washington DC but it was in Philadelphia when Jefferson served as Secretary of State and then resigned. James Hemings was there with him that entire time that Pennsylvania had outlawed slavery. So James Hemings, he could have stayed in Pennsylvania and been free back in the United States. He and Jefferson come to an agreement, a written document exists this agreement between James Hemings and Thomas Jefferson that if James Hemings will teach his skills the other members of the enslaved community that he will be legally freed and he is three years later after that agreement and then think about what happens. James Hemings he travels widely. That’s the family story that the even some people say he went back to France for a while. Eventually settled in Baltimore, Maryland. Jefferson becomes the president in 1801. He invites James Hemings to come to Washington to be the chef in the White House. But let’s talk about how that invitation is extended. Jefferson doesn’t go to Baltimore. Well, he’s the president he could understand that. He does send a third party to tell James Hemings to come to Washington to serve as the cook in the White House. James Hemings sends a message back to Thomas Jefferson his messages is this tell Mr. Jefferson I would like a few lines of engagement in his own handwriting. What’s James Hemings doing when he makes that statement? What’s he asking for?

DM: Respect.

DT: Respect. He’s free, he’s asking to be treated as a fellow human being, as an equal and also I think about this, who needs who? Who has the need? James Hemings or Thomas Jefferson? You know that Jefferson never wrote a letter back to James Hemings? He never extended that engagement in his own handwriting. James Hemings is back here, though in the summer of 1801 cooking at Monticello. Why would he come here but not go to the White House? He can see his family and was this an opportunity for James Hemings to see if he and Jefferson could in fact deal with one another on a basis of equality and mutual respect? Maybe so. And unfortunately, the next we know of James Hemings is a brief line from Jefferson. Jefferson went back to Washington, James Hemings went back to Baltimore around the holiday time of 1801. Jefferson writes a brief note that says he’s learned that James Hemings has committed an act of suicide at the age of 35. A French chef, a man who speaks and writes two languages, apparently takes his own life having just come home and seem his family. Do we know that he committed suicide? We don’t. Other things might have happened. But when I think about James Hemings and his journey, it does remind me that freedom in and of itself does not mean equality. How is he being treated even though he’s free?

[Group movement]

JP: We didn’t get to hear about the dumbwaiters, but that’s okay. Sorry.

[Group movement/chatter]

DT: Okay. All right. Let’s go through [1:20:00].

JP: We’re going through the back staircase here.

DT: Most people never get the opportunity to do this.

JP: It’s kind of a winding, cool corridor. Yeah. So this is one of the secret passageways? All right. Well this looks, yeah. Yeah, I guess so. Looks like it’s for staff. Yeah. Yeah, it smells it smells like someone’s cooking.

DT: Probably some of my colleagues enjoying lunch.

JP: Yeah, it’s that time.

DT: Yeah, let’s just sit down. Let me close these doors for a little privacy. Jefferson dies, when?

HC: July 4th, 1826.

JP: Nice. July 4th, 1826?

DT:  Which is… July 4th, 1826 is the 50th Independence Day. He dies $107,000 in debt. That works out to a kind of a low-end estimate is 4.3 million dollars. What does that that mean to Monticello’s enslaved community?

[Murmured answers]

DT: It means, that’s the auction block. I mean that’s a that’s that’s a dreaded possibility The auction block. Jefferson does free five people in his will so let’s talk about who he frees. He frees Burwell Colbert, Jefferson’s butler. He frees John Hemings, the master craftsman. He frees Joseph Fossett, Monticello’s blacksmith, the husband of Edith Fossett. And he frees Madison and Eston Hemings. Those are his sons with Sally Hemings. So between the five people in his lifetime and the five people in his will, ten total people are given their freedom. About six months after Jefferson’s death on a cold January day the 15th of January 1827, almost all the furniture of the Fine Art taken out of the house and 130 human beings are on the very same Auction Block with that furniture right on the west lawn of Monticello. So think of Joseph Fossett watching his pregnant wife and children sold before his eyes. Think about all the families. Are they being sold intact? In many cases they’re being broken up and sold to different owners owners who are going to take them out of Virginia. Separating these families potentially forever. So this whole world that Jefferson creates at Monticello comes crashing down. And for the enslaved community at Monticello this means that these families that had struggled to maintain themselves as intact families for so long and some cases well over 50 years are now facing a very unpleasant future. Where husbands and wives are separated, where children are sold from their parents with no recourse whatsoever. That’s the reality of the world that existed at Monticello that really ends for everyone. It ends for Jefferson’s daughter Martha as well, right? This whole world comes crashing down for everyone on the Monticello Plantation not the least of which is that enslaved community who had worked all their lives, who built the house, struggled in the fields, worked along Mulberry Row, find themselves on an auction block with the exception of those five people.

JP: You said they were with the furniture?

DT: Furniture and fine art on the very same auction block. So just think about that and think about auctioneer’s appraising human beings alongside a table and a chair. Setting a dollar value on the life of a human being [1:25:00] and people bidding on the lives of human beings and bidding on furniture the very same time. Let’s talk about what happened to some of the descendants of those once enslaved here at Monticello. I’m going to point out this portrait, but I’ll describe the individuals in the portrait and can you do you have a good visual? Can you see the images there? Let’s talk about the descendants of Madison and Eston Hemings. So again, these are, these the two sons, right? Oh Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson who are legally freed in Jefferson’s will. when Sally Hemings dies in 1835 Madison and Eston Hemings had families by that time. They had married they lived in the city of Charlottesville and then they decided to leave Charlottesville, because their mom’s dead right? What what reason do they have to leave to stay? And so they moved to Ohio. They moved to Chillicothe in the case of Eston Hemings and to Ross Pike County, Ohio in the case of Madison Hemings. And if you know your geography you’ve got Cincinnati and then Chillicothe and Ross Pike County there to the east. So this is there’s a huge Community from Cincinnati through Ross Pike County and Chillicothe of free people of color, right? They’re migrating across the Ohio River because Ohio’s are free state, right? So there’s huge community that gathers there and Madison and Eston Hemings become part of that Community. They’re both skilled woodworkers and the case of Eston Hemings, he’s a remarkably talented musician and traveled all over the State Ohio hired by free people of color by whites as well because of the how famous his band was. Eston Hemings left, Ohio in 1852. He moved to Madison, Wisconsin and changed his name from Hemings to Jefferson and he started to tell people that he was the son of Thomas Jefferson.

JP: And at this point was he passing?

DT: He’s passing when he goes to Madison, Wisconsin. He passes as white. So he made that choice. He brought his whole family to Ohio where they then passed as white. So is that an easy decision to make or a hard decision to make? What do you think? If you have to reinvent yourself and then deny who you were but also live in fear that someone might recognize who you were, right? Of course not everyone can make that choice. Eston Hemings can make that choice, but how about his brother Madison? Madison really can’t make that choice. Why? Because of the color of his skin and features.

JP: And you would have also had to be separated from your family kind of indefinitely if you’re passing for white and the rest of your family cannot do that.

DT: Absolutely. So just think about how hard a decision that must be I mean, you’re gaining advantages I suppose in your perception, but you’re leaving entire world behind in the process and that has consequences, right? You’re Reinventing yourself, but you’re Reinventing Yourself by destroying break burning all those relationships and bridges behind you. And they actually, both sides of the family, Madison Hemings descendants and Eston Hemings descendants as a result of that they completely lose touch with each other, right? They don’t, I mean they’re at the point where they don’t even know that the other family exists when you come down to the modern day. Uh, the gentleman in the lower left corner wearing the uniform of a colonel in the Union Army is John Wayles Jefferson. He is the grandson of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. He’s the commanding officer of the 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment. What does that mean? He is an African-American passing as white [1:30:00] commanding a white Infantry Regiment in the Civil War. What if he gets caught? Good idea, bad idea? Like way bad. One of his friends that he knew in Ohio before his father changed the name from Hemings to Jefferson sees him in the Civil War wearing that uniform. He’s been, he’s a successful Commander. He was wounded at Vicksburg, wounded it Corinth. he’s a decorated officer, loved, respected by his men and now this person from out of the past sees and recognizes him for who he really is. And that individual, this friend from from Chillicothe says that he won’t reveal the truth, allows him to continue. And he actually, John Wayles Jefferson actually said that he wasn’t afraid of any Confederate but he was afraid of what? Being discovered. So his secret is safe. In the middle right of that collage the gentleman on the left is Beverly Jefferson. So he’s the younger brother of John Wayles Jefferson. So he’s a grandson of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings as well. And three of his children are those young men to his right. Beverly Jefferson becomes a highly respected member of the community in Madison, Wisconsin. He owns two hotels owns a transportation business. Um, his sons and grandsons all become very successful doctors, lawyers, inventors living in the Upper Midwest, Madison, Wisconsin, Chicago and over the course of time the story of the family changes and changes and changes and changes and changes to where it’s almost completely erased. They mean, they keep that last name Jefferson, but they start they don’t even know by the 1960s and 70s that there’s any connection between Thomas Jefferson and their family and certainly the connection with Sally Hemings have been completely, right, lost over time until one descendant becomes interested in genealogy and then starts to make discoveries and then books are published. There’s a book by Fawn Brodie published in the 1970s and then Annette Gordon-Reed’s groundbreaking books about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings and the Hemings family and this descendant her name is Julia Westernen (?) suddenly realizes wait, there’s a whole story no one has told us and her brother is the person who provided a DNA sample in 1998. That did what? Scientifically connected these two families with each other. The woman in the lower right is Ellen Wayles Roberts. She is the granddaughter of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings and other descendants of Madison Hemings are in the middle left portrait and the top-left portrait is an image of the great grandson of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings. His name is Frederick Madison Roberts. So go anybody here shout out if you’ve heard of Frederick Madison Roberts. Well, let’s talk about him. He’s a pretty remarkable person. He goes to Colorado State, graduates from college, he’s a star athlete. He is the Headmaster, administrator of a school in Mississippi, but his family actually was from Los Angeles, California, and he went back home to Los Angeles to take over the family business along with his brother, but both of these gentlemen left the family business after a period of time. Frederick Madison Roberts in 1918 became the first African-American elected to the California state legislature. He’s a pioneer in America’s Civil Rights Movement. So this is the period of who people like W.E.B. Dubois, right? Booker T. Washington [1:35:00]. And he also plays a key role in the creation of a college out in California. He sponsors legislation, cosponsors legislation in 1919 to create a school in California. So we all think of Thomas Jefferson and the University of Virginia. Frederick Madison Roberts, the school that he helped to found every year California State Assembly offers a full scholarship in his name, a scholarship to a person of color. Who then attends for free UCLA. UCLA. He’s an amazing, amazing person Frederick Madison Roberts. So when we talk about legacy here at Monticello, you can trace that legacy all the way down to people like Frederick Madison Roberts and the descendants who were alive right there the photograph here of all these people. So when you take a look at that photograph, do you see African Americans? Do you see white people? Do you see people you can’t tell if they’re African-American and Hispanic or where they came from in the past? Who their ancestors were? Is that a portrait of what it’s like to be living in a diverse country called the United States? When you see all those people? All those people are related to each other. They’re all descendants. Every person is a Hemings descendant and Jefferson descendants as well. What do you think? All right, so we just we just unpacked the whole bunch of stuff. We’ve got kind of into the deep end of the swimming pool on some issues. And if you like, I’m more than happy to talk a little more anything on your mind. What else would you like to talk about? That you’d like to know more about or are you shellshocked or are you tired? Well now you I’m going to ask you questions.

JP: I do have a question ummm about uh the video. Um, the Sally hemings exhibit that a lot of the text was taken from Madison’s um correspondence and writing and if you could talk a bit about like the role of literacy and the fact that you know, um, we don’t have documents pertaining to Sally Hemings’ life, but Madison is that kind of critical link and and maybe how he learned how to write and and just the importance of literacy more generally?

DT: The words that we saw in the newly-opened exhibit dedicated to the life of Sally Hemings, uh are extracted from Madison Hemings’ interview, and that was done in 1873 for the Pike County Republican newspaper. That was the name of the newspaper. And so the editor, he actually interviewed many members of of the free black community who’d once been enslaved at Monticello. So Madison Hemings’ interview is not the only interview. He also interviewed um, Peter Fossett who was the son of Joseph Fossett and Edith Fossett at that time recording their memories, um and Israel Gillette as well another member of the enslaved community. And so the value of literacy and learning is certainly not lost on the members of the enslaved community here at Monticello or anyone else because they certainly, you know, Jefferson he’s not the only one here who understands that knowledge is power and that literacy and education becomes critical to people advancing themselves. And you know remember what is it the that Gideon Granger, what’s he say when he’s firing all those free blacks from the post office? They will learn that a man’s rights do not depend on his color. Even he recognizes the value of education, of course he wants if to not happen, right? [1:40:00] So there is a critical role seeing through the African American community, the free people of color and you know, the whole idea behind what when the NAACP is founded, what’s the whole idea behind it? What’s the main goal? Is to enable people to have access to an education and so that becomes and that really is ingrained in, I mean every parent wants their kid to get an education, right? Have any of you ever heard that from your moms and dads anything about, right? This is important. This is the way to get ahead. So I mean it’s ingrained in the culture, even though there’s sort of a counter-narrative too that discounts the value of education. So that’s a strange thing isn’t it? How these two things can be valued and then devalued at the very same time. I’m in favor of education myself because I think it’s a good thing. So I have trouble understanding those instances when when when it’s devalued. Have you ever had someone criticize you because you’re getting an education? Have you ever encounter that or is it just not something that you that you’ve experienced? Help me out here. I know it’s a tough question, isn’t it?

JP: Yeah are there any other questions? Um, Josh was your question about business kind of answered? You felt like that was good?

JSH: Yeah, and like, you know correlating that to just like so where do you like in your own words think like heavy confliction that Jefferson like has throughout history comes from like he knowingly knows what he’s doing is wrong, but he decides to go through with it. And I mean, there’s like certain examples where it’s kind of clear like debt or like it’s his own family but like it’s like, um this recurrence that’s kind of like confusing in a way that you don’t really understand like how he…?

DT: He’s a really difficult person to understand. I mean, you know I come up, I work here I mean, I’m here almost all the time. I talk about Jefferson all the time. I’ve read all the books, biographies, I’ve read all his writings. I’ve read people who are you know, thinking he’s the most wonderful thing and people are things most terrible thing. So all these various perspectives and where you wind up in my case anyway, is that Thomas Jefferson is genuinely a difficult person to understand. He’s very complex. He’s very conflicted. He is a person with a vision for the future who is very much living within his own time and in some ways you think about words of the Declaration of Independence used by others used by Abraham Lincoln, by Dr. Martin Luther King by Frederick Douglass, right? I mean his words do genuinely inspire people to go out and do wonderful great things and yet he’s the same person who wrote in Notes on the State of Virginia, and those words are actually used by people to continue to try to rationalize inequality. So he’s really, I mean he really is a difficult person. He’s so complex. He is contradictory. I agree. Um, I would I would say that and this is just my opinion. I think Jefferson is one of those people who compartmentalizes things, right? He doesn’t synthesize and work through the contradiction. He just puts these little, right? He’s compartmentalizing these worlds that that he creates. He sees the, he knows the evil of slavery because he’s seen it. But whose, but is he benefiting from the system? I mean he is a bit, right? So so I sometimes tell people this: [1:45:00] principle and practice self-interest and self-sacrifice. Those are choices, right? They’re different things principle and practice. Sometimes your principles in your practice can be coincident. But sometimes what you say and what you do can be totally opposite, right? You hear someone say something and it’s wonderful and then you go out and you see that very same person do the opposite of what they just said; that’s Jefferson. And if he chose self-sacrifice over self-interest would this house exist? Maybe not. So yeah, I, it’s a really good question. Have you do you have any thoughts on how you reconcile Jefferson? Or do you just sort of say eh?

JSH: Yeah

DT: No, I’m with you because yeah, I mean I had that sort of textbook answer for you say oh here’s how it all works out, but I don’t because he’s, I think at least in my case I always find myself wanting Jefferson to be a better person than he is. He’s a really flawed human being. I mean he does really great things. I mean the whole idea of religious freedom. That’s, you know, they have to give Jefferson credit for that. I mean Jefferson you know, he talks about this wall of separation between church and state and what look at the arguments that are going on right now about church and state anybody see the Attorney General the other day Jeff Sessions? This whole task force he’s forming for for for what religious freedom? When I heard his words it didn’t sound to me like he was talking about religious freedom. What? And then you know, I mean think about the world in which we live in today. All right? Think you know, guess what? You know, what is it tomorrow is going to be the first of August. What’s going to happen on the 12th of August here in Charlottesville? Or at Lafayette Square outside the White House? I don’t know. I hope is not a repeat of last year, but were any of you here last year? Did you expect that was going to happen in Charlottesville? Which has its own history, it’s not always pleasant, but I didn’t think I’d see that happen. I live in Charlottesville. So, you know, this is happening in my city. And I see, I recognize people. That’s pretty scary. I didn’t feel very good that day. Did you feel good that day? Did you start to wonder what the heck is going on? So, is that a legacy? Tell me do we track all that back to the world of slavery? Yeah, I mean, I think it’s part of what we struggle with and some of it comes down to how many people have the moral courage to prove Jefferson wrong about his idea that whites and blacks could not exist together in freedom.


Q1: The Difference Jefferson Makes Transcript

Indexed Transcript (with audio)

Disclaimer: As with other podcasts, this series is produced for to be heard, not read. We provide the below transcript for accessibility and archival purposes. That being said, we encourage you to listen to the audio, which contains emphasis and inflections not represented in text. The below transcript is generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, thus they may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print. (Note: this disclaimer is adapted from a “This American Life’s” format) 

Query 1: The Difference Jefferson Makes

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

Publication date: 2019-02-19

Episode Summary: Thomas Jefferson makes some controversial claims about race and racial difference in his first and only book, Notes on the State of Virginia. How do we reconcile Jefferson’s racist theories with his ideals of liberty, equality, and individual freedom? What do these tensions in Jefferson’s work tell us about belonging and citizenship today? Find out in our first query: “The Difference Jefferson Makes.”

Guests [in order of appearance]: Niya Bates, Brad Pasanek, John O’Brien, David Thorsen, Kwame Otu, Deborah McDowell, Mia Bay.



I’m Deborah McDowell and this is “Notes on the State.”

“We hold these truths to be self-evident … Is there anyone who doesn’t recognize these words? I would guess that most members of our listening audience not only know these words, many could likely complete the sentence of “The Declaration of Independence” in which they appear: “that all men are created equal.”

Thomas Jefferson is widely regarded as the architect of this ideal this guiding principle of our nation–its civil religion, if you will.

A mere few years after gathering with the other Founding Fathers to craft and hammer out the details of the Declaration—just as the republic was beginning to take shape—Jefferson turned to a new project, one that would absorb his attention for several years to come: his first and only book, Notes on the State of Virginia.

In what would become the most memorable sections of this dense, complicated, and often vexing book, Jefferson openly contradicts his lofty democratic ideals, most especially in his theories about race and racial difference.  Perhaps he needed these theories to rationalize and live with the fact that he owned and enslaved hundreds of people, whom he did not see as equals, hundreds of people, whom he could not bring himself in life to free.

It is now taken for granted that those enslaved neither factored into Jefferson’s conceptions of equality nor ultimately in his conception of humanity. According to Niya Bates, Public Historian of Slavery and African-American Life at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello:

[NIYA BATES he writes in his only book Notes on the State of Virginia about racial hierarchy, sort of pseudoscientific racist beliefs that black people are inferior.]

Although some scholars—Michael Hardt, for example—considered race one of “the greatest stumbling blocks of [Jefferson’s] thought,” as well as the greatest challenge to his concept of democracy, his ideas have proven powerfully resilient for over two centuries, perhaps none more resilient than those articulated in Query 14, arguably the book’s most famous section. And the focus of this, our first episode.

Query 14 is but one chapter in an otherwise rambling and meandering book. The query entitled “Laws” describes the proposal for the emancipation of slaves in Virginia. But this point is sometimes lost on readers because of the tedious details at the front end of the query. Most readers tend to skip right to the section, describing to quote Jefferson, that “other race,” that race stamped with the “immovable veil of black,” that race, in Jefferson’s, words: “inferior to the whites the endowments both of body and mind.” But in skipping to that section of the query, it’s easy to miss the fact that these claims about racial difference occur at a moment in the text in which Jefferson is contemplating the possibility of emancipation.

Like so much in Jefferson’s writings, this query is plagued with contradictions and equivocationsAt points in the query, it is as if he is actually quarreling with himself about a range of questions about race, and specifically about black people:

  • Are black people human?
  • Are they a separate species, a distinct race?
  • Do they feel? Do they love?  Can they grieve?
  • Do the “physical distinctions” between blacks and white prove a “difference of race?”
  • And if so, are these distinctions fixed and immutable?

Of course, these questions lead inevitably to THE BIG question, the brooding question, the one favored by proponents and detractors of Jefferson alike:  how do we reconcile his defense of liberty and equality with this racist claptrap masquerading as science contained in Query 14?

Let’s see if we can work our way through the muck and messiness of these ideas. But before we do, we need to take a few minutes to provide a bit of background

Let’s get started—Query 1: The Difference Jefferson Makes”

The “States” and Stakes of Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia


Notes on the State of Virginia has its genesis in a set of questions—or queries—from Francois Marbois, a French diplomat—I concede I speak magnolia French—French with an Alabama. So this French diplomat is curious about this new nation, which had declared its Independence from Great Britain but a few years before. In his questions to Jefferson, Marbois asks for basic information about the topography, the geology, the flora, the fauna, charters of the state, the population, commerce, currency, religion

Marbois actually sends the same questionnaire to representatives in all of the thirteen original American colonies… But only Jefferson seizes the opportunity to write a detailed book-length set of answers.

[Brad]: it doesn’t answer the questions–at least not in the mode Marbois would expect–He gets a questionnaire and he returns a book.

[John] and, it gets associative. Like he starts off on one topic and that leads him to something else.

This is Brad Pasanek and John O’Brien—two professors in UVA’s English department—whom we interviewed about Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia. They point out how Jefferson attempts to be meticulous in his response to Marbois, but his tendency to stray into territory of his own choosing results in a complicated and meandering book. One very hard to make sense of, says John O’Brien

[JOHN O’BRIEN] It’s not a friendly or readable book. Because it doesn’t have a narrative. It’s almost like a statistical summary turned into prose. It has accounts of the flora and fauna, the native tribes, the chief exports of various regions of Virginia. It also is a book that quite deliberately puns. The “state” of Virginia, the state, the entity of Virginia. But also trying to use the pages of a book to capture the “state” of Virginia at a particular moment. And that moment is right at the cusp of nationhood.

They consider Notes on the State of Virginia, one of the most important books written by an American in the eighteenth century.

What makes it so important? For one reason, despite America’s victory and independence, it is struggling at this moment for economic and political viability and stability.  And at the same time, it is struggling—in both explicit and implicit ways—to define its position as a newly independent state vis a vis its Old World European counterparts, who are busy ranking, measuring, and sizing up this brash new republic.

[O’BRIEN] 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.

But because he likes to stray—and, because this text is so associative…– Jefferson sets out to answer Marbois’s queries, but ends up engaging with a different Frenchman—here goes… George Louis Leclerc Comte De Buffon.

Considered Europe’s premier naturalist, Buffon has some preposterous theories that Jefferson is determined to rebut. Most especially, a theory called “New World Degeneracy…”

Let’s let David Thorsen, a guide at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, explain:

[Thorsen]: he’s in a competition with a Frenchman named the Comte de Buffon advances the idea that not only animals but human beings in North America because of North America’s temperature climate and geography will degrade over time and become shorter and less intelligent than Europeans. And what does he do to disprove this idea? He collects all these plants and animals to show Buffon that animals are as big or bigger than those in Europe.

Through the power of his prose and purse strings, Jefferson indulged his obsession with debunking Buffon’s crackpot idea. Not only does he bring to this obsession an impressive display of reading and knowledge, derived from his extensive library, he actually gets literally down and dirty, digging in mounds of soil, excavating indigenous burial grounds, unearthing evidence that “our animals are every bit as big as theirs.”

Again, if you can believe it, Jefferson sends animal heads, “cougar skins, elk horns, and whole moose carcasses across the Atlantic” (Waldstreicher) to Buffon.

[BRAD PASANEK] 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 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 white “we”  [18:00] yeah the European we that that we’re not going to become corrupted by the airs of the new world or the soil of the new world…

As Jefferson is answering Marbois’s queries, he is simultaneously attempting to rebuke Buffon’s outlandish ideas about “New World Degeneracy.” In the process, and indirectly, Jefferson arrives at some of his most controversial claims about race and racial difference.

Jefferson may have insisted that Europeans transplanted to America, are not in danger of degenerating.  He may have insisted that they are no different from those Europeans on the other side of the Atlantic, and certainly not inferior to them.  But the descendants of Africa, now captive in Virginia? Maybe they were different, and maybe their difference was fixed in nature. At least that’s what Jefferson claims at first, but in the end, he can’t really make his mind up here; he can’t settle the question.

When it comes to the Marbois’s questions about the animals and plants of Virginia, Jefferson is scrupulous… measuring and grafts, packing animal skins and horns to ship across the Atlantic… and he even going so far as to “display his findings,” as it were… in the entrance hall of his home…

But when it comes to the questions Buffon prompts about whole groups of people… Jefferson’s commitment to rationalism and empiricism seems to break down. Here’s David Thorsen again:

[Thorsen]: Jefferson is a man of the enlightenment. Knowledge is power. That’s why the antlers are there… the fossils.

He’s also going back to Greek and Roman history as the cradle of Western Civilization as a resource… but if you read Notes on the State of Virginia what does Jefferson say about his interest in African culture and history? Does he expressed any desire to know about Mali about Timbuktu about the empires of Africa? He completely ignores any evidence of black culture and achievement and says he’s going to deal with blacks as he observes them where they are. Where are they in Virginia? What is he observe? People who are enslaved not their cultures. So, Jefferson is not interested in that. A man of the Enlightenment. What’s he doing? Is he rejecting knowledge because it doesn’t fit the narrative?

 This reasoning, Brad Pasanek argues, is one of the most confounding aspects of Notes on the State of Virginia, but also why it’s such a compelling representation of Jefferson’s inconsistencies:      

[BRAD PASANEK] One of the things that I find interesting about Jefferson 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 is written against Buffon in a kind of, I don’t know, I want to say, seemingly anti-racist mode, but what he does is produce a new kind of racism. That is quintessentially Jeffersonian. Or as one of my mentors pointed out. This is a guy who sleeps in the wall. He’s neither in his office nor in his room. He’s always trying to find some liminal space to inhabit.

So how did Jefferson even get here in the first place? To this “new form of racism.”

The moment in the text in which Jefferson outlines his most controversial and bedeviling ideas about race… is actually when he’s contemplating emancipation… and the terrifying question of what would happen were enslaved people ever to be emancipated?

Jefferson fixates on the inferiority of blacks to justify why the enslaved should not be emancipated.

It’s interesting, to me, that Jefferson, even when he retracts, he continues to return to variations on the following quotation: “this unfortunate difference of colour, and perhaps of faculty, is a powerful obstacle to the emancipation of these people.” He goes on to elaborate why the formerly enslaved, if emancipated would need to be removed in his words “beyond the reach of mixture”

Now, as we know, this is the same man who asserted that slavery was and I quote him cruel war against human nature… But of course, even when Jefferson seems completely unambiguous in his condemnation of slavery. It is not attached to a notion that blacks are equal…

It is this quintessential character of Jefferson, the tensions, the equivocations, the contradictions that helps to explain his shifting stances on slavery itself.

[BRAD PASANEK] if the British had shot Jefferson in 1782, we would remember him as one of the great sort of opponents of slavery, as a powerful American voice against racism. But 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, we see something else. Like, you can watch him sort of work his way to a stranger and stranger more pathologically racist place, if you follow him through the “states” of the Notes on the State of Virginia.

Throughout this series, we will follow Jefferson through the “states” of the Notes on the State of Virginia… Our ultimate aim is neither to glorify or demonize him; neither to cement him to his pedestal nor topple him to the ground.  Rather, we want to make “the sage of Monticello,” as he is known in these parts, touchable for our times. That may not be easy but we want to try anyways.

To make Jefferson touchable for our times, we have to go right to the crux of Jefferson’s contradictions… the distance Jefferson creates between equality and difference… And we’ll go there… right after this.


The Difference Jefferson Makes

MCDOWELL: So, clearly there are a lot of moving parts to Notes on the State of Virginia… Jefferson is thinking about the new nation, trying to document for a diplomat in France laws, customs, and geography of Virginia, all the while quarreling with Buffon’s crazy theory about “New World Degeneracy.”

For sure, the dustbins of history are full of crazy theories about race.  What, if anything, is new or distinct about what Jefferson has to say? We’re going to take up this question by focusing in more closely on the text.

Well, for one, there is the pseudoscientific language to lend his ideas about racial difference the air of authority. All this stuff about the physiological sources of blackness, references to “skin and scarf-skin,” to secretions, “reticular membranes,” the “colour of black blood” of black bile, and so on and so on.

Again we should note that the stakes are high—to say the least—when it comes to Jefferson’s ideas. Because these ideas about race and racial difference are emerging at this founding moment for the nation… At the moment he must determine, along with others, what constitutes an American citizen? Who belongs to this nation?

As we were working on this episode, we heard that Kwame Otu, Assistant Professor of African-American and African Studies, was discussing Notes on the State of Virginia in his introduction to African American Studies course.

And so, we sent our producer, James Perla to attend the lecture… in an auditorium filled with two-hundred or so students.

JAMAS PERLA: Professor Otu begins the class by reading from the famous—or infamous–Query 14, where Jefferson begins to spin his theory of racial difference, his theory of what separates whites from blacks.

[KWAME OTU] “The first difference which strikes us is that of colour.  Whether the black of the negro resides in the reticular membrane between the skin and scarf-skin, or in the scarf-skin itself; whether it proceeds from the colour of the blood, the colour of the bile, or from that of some other secretion, the difference is fixed in nature, and is as real as if its seat and cause were better known to us….

Here he’s actually trying to make a distinction between black and white. Right? And this distinction he imagines as immutable, fixed, immovable. So what is really going on here? Why is he really feeling compelled to make these distinctions…

Professor Otu puts this question to his students and their responses get right to the core of the issue. So, I’ll let the tape run:

[STUDENT 1] He’s trying to go back in his word in what he said in the Declaration– and trying to support how the economy is sustained by slavery and the need to have one race beneath the other and creating this pseudoscience to support that…

Professor Otu keeps reading, letting Jefferson’s passages, which grow stranger and stranger, speak for themselves.

[KWAME OTU] Add to these flowing hair, a more elegant symmetry of form, their own judgment in favor of the whites, declared by their preferences for them as uniformly as in the preference of the orangutan for the black women as for those over their own species.

The circumstance of superior beauty is thought worthy of attention in the propagation of horses, dogs and other domestic animals. Why not in that of man? So, what’s going on here?

So, for Jefferson, the quintessential factor is whiteness, right? Color. Color is a definitive figure. It’s a key distinguishing factor that separates white people from black people. Based on color, we are completely biologically different. We have different mental states that separation for him is perpetual.

Up to this point, Jefferson bases his claims that black people are inherently inferior to white people in his observations—bad observations, unreliable observations—about the black bodies of those he has enslaved. But he doesn’t stop there.

[DEBORAH MCDOWELL] But he went much further than that because he even suggested that their emotional capacities were different. So, you know, when he says, in particular, even the capacity to grieve in the face of loss. He says, the griefs of these people, this species that is so different from us, their griefs are transient. Right? He’s saying that whatever it is that defines a human being: the capacity to feel, the capacity to think, that black Americans are always outside those definitions.

To repeat, Jefferson sees race as something “fixed in nature,” and he uses this claim to propose two contradictory ideas: that white Europeans in America are free of the badge of inferiority– the kind that Buffon talked about in his theory.  And two, that at the same time, however, enslaved people of African descent are somehow defined by inferiority, immutably so.

As we have tried to point out, Jefferson is not the founder of these ideas alone… but his contributions to the history of racist ideas are significant and influential, particularly when it comes to the American context. This is according to Mia Bay, an historian at the University of Pennsylvania.

[BAY] He was really the first American to write much of anything. . . more of his generation about race. And he also kind of set this scientific tone. He talked about race in the context of this naturalist report on America, its environs, and politics. And tried to sound very dispassionate. And like a man of the enlightenment thinking these things through carefully. So all of that I think makes it something that is going to capture people’s imagination, something that’s going to be quoted…

And Jefferson’s writings in Query 14 have been quoted time and time again—both by those advocating similar ideas of racial difference AND by those contesting these very notions!

But regardless of the influence of Jefferson’s writing, it’s important to underscore that there is also no factual or scientific truth—none whatsoever—to Jefferson’s claims about race and racial difference… Or as Deborah says…

[DEBORAH MCDOWELL] The tone, the kind of affectation of detachment, of “objectivity.” That all of this is to grant some kind of quote-on-quote: scientific authority. But there is nothing in science to ratify or support or reinforce anything Jefferson is saying. He is not himself confident of his claims, because there are many internal contradictions to the query: “well I believe, maybe it could be advanced.” And so, there’s quite a bit of equivocation. There’s assertion and then as we would say in our contemporary language a walking back of those assertions.

Of course, the irony in all of this is that whatever their presumed inferiority, the very people Jefferson characterizes as inferior are indispensable to the wealth-building economy of slavery. These assertions essentially lay the groundwork for a whole series of justifications and evasions that ultimately work to rationalize the inequalities at the foundations of our nation. As Mia Bay observes, this is a key reason why Jefferson actually needs to make these claims about race and racial difference in the first place!

[BAY] And Jefferson also talks about race in Notes on the State of Virginia to resolve the problem he helped set up. Which is that if you are going to create this society founded on the notion that all men are created equal and you are going to have slavery, you might have to qualify the “all men are created equal” by having suspicions that maybe some are not created equal.

Popular opinion reads Jefferson’s writings about race as inconsistent with his writings on equality, considers these ideas as irreconcilable with his racist ideas about black inferiority and racial difference. But Mia Bay helps us to return to one of our guiding questions in this episode: who belongs? And what do we do with these contradictions in Jefferson—foundational to our nation’s history—the contradictions between equality and difference?

And, part of the answer to that question is that it’s the limitations of Jefferson’s thoughts about equality lead directly to his racist ideas… Jefferson’s inability to see people of color as human or capable of equality results in or perhaps even fuels his claims about racial difference. Here’s Professor Otu again:

[KWAME OTU] The very idea of language of equality is so racialized. It’s a language that does not recognize black people as equal to whites. As is the notion of the human. And why is that? Because the notion of the human is a very western Christian conception. And again, these notions around the human are the same notions that color how Jefferson sees the world. So you need to think about the fact that when he’s talking about “man” the very idea of man excludes all other races… we are not within this classificatory schema as humans it does not apply to us…

Because in Jefferson’s mind emancipation is unimaginable. On the one hand, he knows slavery is immoral. But for Jefferson emancipation poses many challenges: Jefferson is fearful of “racial mixing”, both the very literal mixing—miscegenation—or interbreeding of people considered to be of different racial types—which, is something that’s already occurring, as Jefferson knows intimately—and also “racial mixing” in terms of what the possibility of emancipation portends for the masters and enslavers… that formerly enslaved will take up arms to exact retribution for what Jefferson describes as…”ten thousand recollections, by the blacks, of the injuries they have sustained…”

Not to mention, emancipation is an economic issue, too! An economic issue masquerading as a moral issue—how do you redistribute property?—at the time, property included enslaved peoples as well—And how do you solve this equation while still holding on to all your power, property, and privilege?

And, Jefferson turns to enlightenment principles—his rational thinking and desire for order—He opts for hierarchy and subordination—a hierarchy based in race… instead of a more lofty ideal of equality and justice… And here, again, the limitations of Jefferson’s vision of equality comes into focus…his project breaks down because of self-interest.

And these blind-spots, these limitations, these fictions of racial difference based in willful misperception and studied reluctance are still with us today.

This is something Kwame Otu also encourages his students to think about. Jefferson’s writings on equality and his racist pronouncements work hand in glove….

[KWAME OTU] These are the entangled ways that I want you to think about. These fictions which are violent and very toxic. How are they repurposed and reproduced in the current moment? Because they effectively shape and design how policies are enacted and implemented and how black people are perceived on a daily basis. Right? Which is why i push you to think about what does it mean to be human? And why is it that we are continually saying that Black Lives Matter? And that’s why this is important.

Professor Otu observes that we’re still trying to reconcile ourselves to the legacy of Jefferson’s thought to this very day. Even though these ideas change form and shape over time, the underlying meanings and intentions persist.

This, Deborah says, is because these assumptions about racial difference are so resilient:

[MCDOWELL] So, those assertions do a lot of cultural work. They do the work of rationalizing structures of inequality. And basing those structures of inequality on ideas of racial difference. And that every age does its own bit of that work. We’re dealing with this in our age. Every age has its own way of defining who qualifies for citizenship. So, Jefferson is doing for his era what every era does is to find its own way to justify the principle that we are not all created equal, right?

And so part of reconciling with Jefferson’s history is about taking stock of the lasting power of his ideas. According to Professor Otu, this is the challenge that we inherit: to redefine for our times the fictions that justify structures of inequality… the fictions of racial difference at the foundations of our nation’s identity.

Our work, is not simply to “debunk” or attempt to disprove the legacies of Jefferson’s thought in contemporary forms of racism, but to dismantle the structures and systems of exclusion. And to act! As Jefferson never could:

[KWAME OTU] So we need to think about the fact that we’re still reeling from these legacies of Jefferson. In our world today, we might not hear people use the kind of language that he’s using, but it’s filtered everywhere in the policies we make. He’s the founder of our institution. For example, look at this, when a school like UVa talks about diversity and inclusion, right? And you guys know where I’m going to go with this. One you are saying that “oh, well we’ve now realized you guys are human so you can join us.” But again, the very language of “inclusion” somehow privileges whiteness as exclusive, right?

And it’s as if you have to walk on shards of glass to beg people to become human. To beg white people to join the community. But then, that shouldn’t be the case. We shouldn’t use the language of inclusion because we are already here. We already belong.

[musical flourish]

Jefferson Beyond Jefferson

But do we belong?  And who is this “we?”  As we know, the “we” is always exclusive, is always formed and solidified by abjecting or expelling something, someone some bodies.  Who, then, belongs? And on what terms? On whose terms?

We know that both before and since Jefferson wrote Query 14… we have debated this question of who belongs? And continue to debate the question of whether the black people in this nation—brought here against their will, to build its wealth, fortune, and influence in the world—have a place as American citizens…not as 3/5th human beings, but full-fledged citizens.

And so, Jefferson makes a difference. And the difference Jefferson makes is to inscribe for American posterity a lasting fiction: that race not condition is the differentiating factor. And we have been debating this myth, we have been debating this fiction ever since, in order to determine who among American citizens has the right “to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Given this fact… what do we do? what can we do with Notes on Virginia?

After we have meditated on its contradictions, its inconsistencies, its equivocations.  After we have condemned and dismissed his pseudo-scientific thinking, what is left? Can anything be salvaged from this book? Can anything be salvaged for our times from Jefferson’s thought?

One thing we haven’t mentioned is that the subtitle of our podcast series is “Jefferson beyond Jefferson.” This comes from the political theorist, Michael Hardt (whom we quote at the beginning of this episode.) Hardt makes a critical point in his essay “Jefferson and Democracy”, Hardt says…  there are times whe “the project of a philosopher breaks down and needs to be carried beyond where it was left.”  Hardt then urges us to “carry Jefferson’s thought beyond his own limitations.”

As we have seen in this episode. Those limitations are legion those limitations abound, but there is at least one place in Query 14 where the project breaks down, opening an opportunity for us to extend it beyond the break… to make it live again, to move it beyond its limitations. And this clip comes from our conversation with John O’Brien and Brad Pasanek.

And actually takes us back to one of those moments of rupture in Jefferson. There are always these moments of rupture. He’s moving along, quite dispassionately. Then suddenly seemingly out of nowhere comes this very passionate language.

[DEBORAH MCDOWELL]:  I love those sections where you see Jefferson actually stepping out from behind the protections of this pseudo-scientific detached commentary on race to actually provide us glimpses into his moral sensibility.  I’m referring to that section where he writes, “I shudder that God is not sleep.”  Where he talks about the “boisterous passions” that are developing between these two groups of people, one held in bondage by the other, you know.  “I shudder at” because he is really imagining a kind of justice that will await those people like himself, who have enslaved people and refused to set them free.  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 relationships at best with religion.  I shudder that God is not asleep.  You know that there is this force that will bring down the kind of judgment, the wrath of God such as we see in the Old Testament.

[BRAD PASANEK]:  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.

Though, we know such a reversal in the wheel of fortune never comes… there is a kernel—a core possibility—in Jefferson’s rhetorical flourish here—one that exceeds the bound of Jefferson himself—this call to a moral urgency… is a call to action, of sorts… And to get beyond the persisting inequities, beyond the cyclical nature of racist thought, we must break the cycle.

And so, the we here, is now intentional—”we”… as individuals, as communities, as institutions, as governing bodies, as “the people”—need to get “beyond Jefferson” and beyond simply acknowledging the injustices and contradictions of our nation’s history and those persisting injustices that carry through to our very present moment.

To do that we must do what Jefferson could seldom do and that is: act!—Act, not simply disprove or debunk the history of racist ideas to which Jefferson vocally contributes, not simply to learn, or study the machinations of white supremacy and structural racism. Of course, education is essential. But we act on what we know. We must put knowledge into practice to ensure that all citizens in this republic have the right to belong and to reclaim the revolutionary potential of Jefferson’s founding ideal: to make it “self-evident that all men are created equal.” To make it “self-evident that all [human beings] are created equal.”

Sources and further reading:

John O’Brien and Brad Pasanek

Transcript (text only)

Disclaimer: As with other podcasts, this series is produced to be heard, not read. We provide the below transcript for accessibility and archival purposes. That being said, we encourage you to listen to the audio, which contains emphasis and inflections not represented in text. The below transcript is generated using a combination of transcription programs and human transcribers. As such, it may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print. (Note: this disclaimer is adapted from “This American Life’s” format) 

Interviewee(s): John O’Brien, Professor of English Literature at the University of Virginia; Brad Pasanek, Associate Professor of English Literature at the University of Virginia

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

Interview date: 2018-05-15

Interview Summary: Interview with John O’Brien and Brad Pasanek, professors of English at UVA. The interview took place at the Carter G. Woodson Institute. In it, Professors O’Brien and Pasanek discuss Jefferson’s book Notes on the State of Virginia, its structure, style, content, and bibliographic history as well as its importance today.

Keywords: Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, bibliography, 18th Century

Transcription: Gabrielle Oliver


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 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.

How does Jefferson use Virginia to represent the state of the new nation?

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… 

the different 'states' of Notes on the State of Virginia

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.

Notes on the State Digital Edition

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… ?

Jefferson's Library and his Aspirations to Measure up to Europe

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.

Jefferson's thoughts on Racial Difference

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.

Displacement of slavery in Notes and elsewhere

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.

the University of Virginia's role in institutionalizing white supremacy

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]

Jefferson's Prison Drawings

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.

Inequalities in the Landscape

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.

The form of Notes on the State

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.

Jefferson's outbursts

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.

Importance of Notes on the State podcast project for the University at large

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]

Mabel O. Wilson Transcript

Mabel Wilson: Hi, it’s Mabel Wilson. How are you?

James Perla: Hi, Professor Wilson. I’m wonderful. Great. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. Okay, actually as it turns out Deborah had a very unexpected emergency come up this morning. And so. Unfortunately, she sends her regards that she’s unable to come she might come in slightly late, but it looks she may miss it entirely, especially given the fact that we’re starting slightly early. So, she apologizes very deeply for that.

MW: Okay, not a problem. So I’m here with Derrick. He is the recordist and he’s all set.

JP: Wonderful. He should he should be rolling over there.

MW: There is a gigantic Mic actually of my…

JP: Wonderful. Well, no, no need to be to be nervous. I’m sure your adept this by now, right? MW: Sure.

JP: Yeah. So we you know, as I said in the email we’re working on this series about Thomas Jefferson. And the series is actually for UVA’s Bicentennial. So the 200 Year celebration. But our series is really trying to you know to try to “update Jefferson” actually as one of our interviewees said for our times update Jefferson for our times. And so, you know part of that is digging into some of the lesser-known things about his history even here, you know, even with Jefferson Scholars, even with people who talk about him every single day. And so the episode were working on right now is about Thomas Jefferson at the Birth of the Modern Prison. And so the first maybe we can start by you know, how appropriate is that even as a way of organizing or titling the chapter, you know to what extent was Jefferson at the birth of the modern prison?

MW: In terms of Jefferson being at the birth of the modern prison. I’m not an expert on histories of incarceration or even prison. So from my perspective, it’s hard to say exactly where to situate Jefferson and that regard other than from what I know about looking at his architecture is to understand that along with executive functions, along with legislative, functions, and also judicial function, particularly when he and others were conceptualizing the organization of the state of Virginia, Virginia’s Governmental framework that a prison was considered an essential part of that. So clearly he’s thinking about that as a site to house those who break the law or who are considered, you know, outside of you know, lawful activities that organized, you know, this new sort of democratic republic. But how others were thinking about that how you know, I’m not necessarily an expert in that but I think it’s fascinating that you know prison is often listed as part of the architectural designs necessary for a functioning state. First at the state level of Virginia and I know Latrobe Benjamin Henry Latrobe, who become he’s an Englishman who comes over and becomes an architect does build a penitentiary in Richmond and my understanding it was somewhat following earlier designs of Jefferson, which I believe have now been lost.

JP: Yes the Virginia. I think you’re referring to the Virginia State Penitentiary. Which just in the Coincidence of timing, I mean just as you’re starting out–and this is this is wonderful– but even in the coincidence of timing, you know, like the same year Jefferson publishes the Declaration he starts corresponding with people about reforming the criminal codes in Virginia. And so the fact that Jefferson is seen as sort of a progressive reformer wanting to sort of abolish corporal punishment and implement sort of the more human as he thought of it solitary confinement. So even just that that sort of coincidence that of timing that at the birth of the nation at the birth of Virginia punishment is kind of crucial to freedom. I wonder if you can meditate on that a bit.

MW: Yeah. No, I didn’t. Yeah, I mean not knowing fully Jefferson’s philosophy on prisons and you know, it would certainly correspond with what I discovered in looking at the small jail that he designed later in life that there was this solitary confinement cell. And that he had actually looked at various incarceration prison reforms in France around the role of solitary confinement off. Also, you know drawing from English models. So thinking about all right, well, how do those reforms actually translate into spatial relationships? And then built form and then you know, how does it design? Which is you know, the architect’s problem that seems to make sense also in terms of you know him imagining who what constitutes a citizen and you know, what is the kind of moral character necessary for citizenship and participation. So, you know sort of trying to understand the role of justice, criminal justice, and incarceration in producing that effect seems to make sense and you can kind of see it in this small design for this jail.

JP: Excellent. That’s that sets as a perfectly I want to get into both of those things perhaps in order. So first talking about the design itself and then going a little bit more into into what you just mentioned about citizenship. So I guess you know the big picture and I know I understand at least that currently working on a book on this. So I understand if this question is a little bit reductive but sort of the big picture in terms of what’s going on sort of at this historical moment when Jefferson starts working on these designs and partly the question is how is slavery sort of influences the architecture of early America. So maybe just helping us a little bit to set the context so that we can get into some of Jefferson’s design itself.

MW: My current project is a book-length manuscript called “Building Race and Nation” and so it looks at both the formation of a modern understanding of race. So the emergence of you know, sort of from Enlightenment ideas of racial difference to clearly kind of more institutionalized scientific racism by the mid-nineteenth century, but also looking at the parallel of the rise of the nation state in the form of the United States, but also the key word in the title is also building. So, my intent is to look at American Civic architecture and its formation as a lens to understand the formation of nation formation, of race particularly whiteness in relationship to Native Americans and enslaved Africans. And so for me, you know sort of looking looking at the built form and what that in fact organizes materially around questions of labor, land, property spatially, and also symbolically can be quite powerful. So as I have been going through archives, I just came across that prison. I think it’s in the Massachusetts Historical Society, and I just thought this is fascinating. And so I just, you know, I put the file to jpeg aside and just, you know ended up writing something for the Istanbul Biennial online publication “Eflux” around “are we still human?” And my point is that some of us have never actually been human so looking at how incarceration dehumanized the bodies of others. And so when I started to look at that particular drawing I noticed that you had labeled each of the six cells are labeled: the two front cells are for “male and female white debtors,” the middle and the back sell are for “male and female criminals,” and then the other two sides are “male and female negro slaves” so the racial labeling of those cells I thought were quite interesting. And then to think about all right, well, what was your how were you registered within the law at that moment and clearly? The enslaved were property so they weren’t even proper political subjects and freed blacks as I write in the essay, you know post this problematic character because how could you be free and also be black? And so the organization of those cells started to sort of point to clearly questions around who had you know, who was given kind of political rights and agency.

JP: Sure. Yeah and I want to get get your dive into that slightly a little bit more deeply. But for people who may not have seen this drawing before because not many have… Could you just describe it just for us? MW: The drawing is in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society as part of collections of various drawings by Thomas Jefferson. It was done. I don’t know. I can’t remember the exact around 1860 and something 20 and it was for County jail. So it was not a penitentiary, it wasn’t prison, but a local jail. They believed it was in fact, based on the design, in part built. That was only recently recognized but there are six cells with a hallway down the middle. And each of the six cells are labeled according to whatever category you are: debtor, criminal, or slave. And then in the middle in the back is a solitary confinement cell. So that shows the sort of presence of some form of believed of political reform. Within the design of the prison.

JP: Excellent, and for people who are familiar with Jefferson’s many designs. Does it recall anything in particular in your mind? As a speaking sort of in terms of the aesthetic purpose?

MW: The relationship of the design sorry the relationship of the design to other Jefferson’s projects. It’s probably more in the vein of the utilitarian sketches that he makes probably for barnes or you know, sort of other outbuildings that are part of his for example plantations various plantations that he owns. This does clearly have a civic dimension to it. So, it’s more orderly and organized, but in the design if I recall correctly in some of the research that I was able to find particularly in correspondence is he actually does give “this amount of bricks will be required. This is the number of nails this..” so he thinks about it in a very kind of rational pragmatic sense of okay this is what you will need to construct one of these. And I do think that within Jefferson sense of let’s say for the first architect, even though he was not formally trained to someone like [Benjamin Henry] Latrobe or [Charles] Bullfinch or [William] Thornton or some of the other architects that are coming from elsewhere from France or are England, you know who end up working in the United States, he does see his role as someone who can bring an aesthetic sensibility around what would constitute tasteful architecture. So that architecture is an essential component to the rise of an American culture. So, UVA is a perfect example of that that each of the pavilions were essentially to be a lesson on proportions and scales of palladian architecture or neoclassical architecture. And so, you know, these buildings were to have a kind of didactic purpose. So no doubt he would is imagining this as a kind of prototype that might be replicated elsewhere.

JP: Right and and picking up on that. I mean, you know in his correspondence too, he notes that the aesthetic function should be a certain way of a prison that you know prisons shouldn’t necessarily be beautiful. Right? And so maybe sort of contrasting those to a bit that you know, the prison in compared to UVA’s Lawn. I know some people have remarked that on the surface level just the the sort of bird’s eye view is sort of schematically similar to UVA’s lawn. In terms of just it being sort of a rectangle with something at the top the solitary confinement cell or the Rotunda your thoughts?

MW: The comparison between the jail and UVA is a very fascinating. I mean, I never thought about that as a point of comparison, but I do think that Jefferson as an enlightened, you know just as a product of the Enlightenment, which was obsessed with orderliness of everything having a place everything knowing where things could should be and could be located a kind of taxonomic, you know obsession that is also comparative. The order and organization of the jail could also be seen as in a sort of parallel to how he would organize government or how he would organize the plan of UVA. So there is a certain belief in the power of order that is is critical and at that sort of speaks to also the rise of utilitarianism and and rationalism as well at that moment people like [Jeremy] Benthem and others who, certainly by the 1820s are clearly saying okay. “How do we produce a kind of more rationalized world?” Though, Jefferson is clearly a product of an earlier moment. You know these new institutions that are arising in a post-revolutionary moment both in France and in the United States around modern European governmental forms clearly show that these new spaces are also going to organize a modern society and also a modern political subject. As well. And as well as produce “the outside.” I mean those who do not fit within that order but who are nonetheless necessary whether it’s for their land as indigenous populations or their labor as the enslaved do become a part of the system, right?

JP: And I wonder if you can talk just a little bit more about that like how specifically does something like architecture produce that sort of paradoxical dynamic between socialization or sort of patriotism that might not be the right word but also exclusion, right? I wonder if you can sort of meditate specific like on a specific example perhaps before we dive into the prison itself.

MW: In regard to the role of architecture and how it’s reflective of this moment around Enlightenment ideas liberalism. For example, I would say part of kind of what I’m interested in my own work is to understand that the subject of the architect, like the subject of the citizen, like the subject of the merchant, the landowner are all sort of modern subjects that are dependent on certain, you know, ideas of abstraction but also ideas of self-possession and self-determination. And architecture, which is a specifically European way of building of conceptualizing building and developing methods of construction because people build all around the world and all different kinds of ways through many different processes, but architecture is a specifically European one that does come out of the rise of humanism and certainly. You know within the Enlightenment it becomes a kind of engine to basically build the modern state, the modern Nation. And so I think it’s just critical to understand that the character– Jefferson is an architect but he’s also a kind of more traditional gentleman polymath architect. Benjamin Latrobe is an architect. He’s trained as an architect. So by the 19th century, you actually have educational institutions that are much more predominantly training Architects to do the work of a now secular state as opposed to architects who in the 18th century or prior to that were trying to either work for the state or work for the monarchy. And so there’s a sort of different literal subjectivity of the architect as professional which you see by the mid-nineteenth century. You know that Jefferson’s also on the cusp of and so that architecture becomes a kind of engine and we see this most clearly by the end of the 19th century with the rise of skyscrapers, planning, transportation hubs, train stations, museums… I mean these all start to organize, you know, we now call “modern society.” But as part of that, you know, that’s all in the metropole you have the colony and so that you also have warehouses plantation houses, docks, you have you know, the outbuildings that aren’t necessarily designed by architects, but our buildings that are a part of this larger sort of apparatus that is you know, sort of extracting wealth and building wealth.

JP: Right, right. And so that’s all wonderful. Thank you so much for that. This really helps to provide that context. And so sort of diving in then to those may be more complicated exclusions, right? The role of the prison particularly for Jefferson. I wonder if you can sort of return to that drawing and talk a little bit about Jefferson’s system to classify people inside the prison so we know that you know, he organized the different sort of cells according to that system as you described but what surprised you if anything about the way that he was classifying people and what does that tell us about these sort of the double-edged sword of that citizenship inclusion and exclusion?

MW: Well, what I found fascinating about Jefferson’s organization, and this is was but, you know sort of speculative on my part when I wrote the essay was the curious position of the debtor, the two debtor cells in the front. And debtors typically being people who may have had means who have gone into debt, but also have the means to get out of debt. And certainly, as we know, Thomas Jefferson lived well beyond his means and when he died was deeply in debt so much so, you know, they sold off all you know, all of the enslaved that he owned in order to pay off those debts. So the fact that those were the two front, which would have been easily accessible to the public people coming in to visit those who might be in those two cells sort of speaks to a certain class hierarchy clearly. And then the other two that were labeled “white criminal” to the left side. So the back and the middle cells spoke to you know those who might have engaged in certain criminal activity, again probably class these might have been people who are indentured or former indentured whites, those who would have been Irish, who you know within the emergence of a racial consciousness were also racialized as inferior, for example to the English. You know, it starts to speak about you know, who has access at least to some form of redemption within the criminal system. Even if you’re you know incarcerated at that moment particularly around women and the ways in which women might be, you know for crimes be able to gain, you know, certain access to religious institutions and reform through that. But then on the right side, there are the two cells for “negro slave men and women” and clearly enslavement and Blackness were associated and that’s most likely these might have been for runaway slaves my speculation. Or for slave couples that were at that period moving westward into you know, what was the Louisiana Purchase for you know, the expansion of land acquisition by people who are starting to farm for cotton. So the larger cotton plantations of the Deep South. So, speculatively, I started to imagine that that’s what those cells might have been for and also for freed blacks who you know might have broken local laws, even though at that point, you know, they weren’t even supposed to be living in Virginia there, you know, once you were free or supposed to leave or move out within one year, but you know given family histories local relationships many people just stayed rather than leave.

JP: Right. And so you’re what you’re describing here is the the prison drawing and I take it there’s no just to sort of underline your point that there were in this society there was no such thing as as black debtors, which is why you have the cells separated by race as well as class and gender as you described is that fair to say? And can you sort of explain why why that might be a little bit more?

MW: Um, yeah that I mean, I can’t say since I don’t have the historical evidence to essentially the archival material to say that there were no black debtors, but I would imagine the you know given the various prohibitions on the ability of blacks to move freely even if you were free to own anything, I would argue that ownership particularly of property was something that that characterized and guaranteed whiteness. So that property ownership was always already white in relationship to Native Americans and Africans so already the law was working consistently particularly after the Revolution when there was a large number of people who actually– well a fair number of people who manumitted slaves they recognized that, you know, to proclaim certain ideas of freedom while the owning slaves was hypocritical but also slaves have value, so people held onto them and they were fearful of the presence of freed slaves particularly around enslaved people because that then sort of becomes a model of you know, and of what you’re not, right? So the proximity of those– so there was often an attempt to create laws that kept freed blacks as far away from, you know regions that had slaves. So, you know sort of that, you know, the laws the codifications of certain ideas around who could or could not own property, you know meant that yeah, you you couldn’t get you couldn’t get loans. You couldn’t you know have banknotes, you could you were very limited in terms of access to finance. And also just being able to even appear in court and have a voice to be a witness for someone in a court case. I mean they were just all kinds of prohibitions around that.

JP: And in your article you had this wonderful meditation on the form of punishment as it related to enslaved people’s as being something that was sort of private. Whereas the function of a Civic space like a prison to be a public form of punishment. That was also a certain socializing function. Like freed enslaved peoples, if I’m understanding it properly from your article, that freed enslaved freed black people formerly enslaved had to be punished publicly because enslaved peoples their masters would enact exact that punishment privately. If that’s if I’m understanding the point in your article correctly. And I’ll also just point out that as we’re talking Deborah has finally she finally made it. So I’m happy to say that unfortunately, you know, she was unable to get the beginning of our conversation but we’re really glad to have her here listening along.

MW: Hi, Deborah, how are you Deborah McDowell: Hi there. How are you?

MW: I’m well, thank you.

DMcD: Thank you so much for doing this.

MW: Yeah, my pleasure.

DMcD: Yes. I had a 10:15 doctor’s appointment and by 11:40 I had not yet seen the doctor.

MW: Oh, no.

DMcD: But, I’m now back. I raced back.

MW: Well, glad you could make for part of it. Ah, so in reference to the question around around punishment. And I with a caveat, I’m not a special have any fully deep understanding around the legal codes of how both freed and enslaved blacks were dealt with particularly around Virginia law, but my cursory understanding to some degree was to constantly allow because the enslaved were understood as property as chattel that the right of punishment was often left under the purview of the owner. Although, I mean, I can’t say specifically whether they were laws that you know said, well, you can’t do this or this or this to your enslaved property. And so that made it more a private matter of ownership rather than something that was determined directly by law which in the case of the punishment of white citizens, for example, you know, all of that was public civic, determined by law and you know within the court of law for the citizen. The freed blacks were a little bit murkier in terms of their position, but the constant pressure was to make sure that they were regulated by law and punished severely. But often not having various sort of rights to say that I have been cheated or that was unfair or that was unlawful which often made freed blacks quite quite vulnerable, you know, for example vulnerable so much that they could be reenslaved, for example.

JP: Excellent.

DMcD: Yes, I think I’ll take up I gather you’ve worked through these. Okay. All right. Well what if anything does this history tell us about prisons today? Obviously, we don’t want to make any simplistic associations. But in all of the talk about Jeffersonian legacies in general even a term that Jeffersonian scholars use quite regularly. I wonder if it’s a possibility or what room do we have given this history to talk about prisons today at the level of design. Are there any legacies of Jeffersonian were Jefferson’s designs?

MW: Well the legacy for me in Jefferson’s design of the prison and sort of my interest in sort of thinking about that small and this very tiny building. It’s just not much about it. There’s not much in his letters about the prison itself, but just looking at how the cells were labeled and how they were organized. It spoke to how not only the law dehumanized the enslaved and anyone who is who is black at that moment, but that the that somehow the architecture was reflective of that organization and of that somehow dehumanization within the law itself.

DMcD: Can you say more about that?

MW: well, I would say that it’s more and how the cells had been labeled and I there was no record that I know of that could say specifically how people were treated within within the prison itself. So, you know, this is all speculation, but for me, the design itself the drawing itself and the way in which it was labeled spoke to that. The law was not about everyone being treated equally that there were already inequalities designed into the system.

DMcD: Yes. Alright that makes perfect sense. So it’s a design a segregated design and that segregation obviously doesn’t originate with Jefferson but remains with us to this very moment, even if what remains is at some physical level invisible those inequalities and forms of segregation based on race remain very much with us today. We’ve been asking all of our interviewees, especially those who have a connection to UVA the following question, which you can find any point of access you’d like. What does Jefferson’s history? I mean to you as a former UVA student. Does it figure in anything you teach your students? If so how so?

MW: As a graduate of UVA and specifically the School of Architecture where you know Jefferson is to some extent, or certainly when I was a student, was God on pedestal. He was always for me a very complex and I always read him as paradoxical figure. I was always fascinated by that paradox and how little that registered in the consistent elevation of his character and his accomplishments. And so for years I’ve written and research, you know bits and pieces around, you know, those inherent paradoxes and so for my current project “Building Race and Nation” Jefferson is the perfect protagonist as Founding Father slaveholder some would argue rapist, architect, educator, I mean he embodies sort of all of these sort of figures and in one person and so it really allows me to understand if he is a kind of quintessential founding father to what degree is all of this baked into the formation of the nation and all of its institutions and whether those institutions are articulated through law or through brick marble and glass.

DMcD: Aha. So if I could follow up there this fascinating title “Building Race and Nation,” obviously it seems as if only in the title to be a logical second project leading from “Negro Building.” So, what’s the relation between what insights from “Negro Building” then led you to this new project building race and nation? And will you give us a sneak peek beyond what you’ve just stated? What are the arguments you want to make?

MW: “Building Race and Nation” the subtitle is like “slavery and dispossession’s influence on early American Civic architecture.” Although I’m working on the subtitle, which is a little wordy at this point… Is what I am terming the “prequel” to my book “Negro Building” which was an examination of World’s Fairs and African-American participation in those public forums as a way of sort of making claims to citizenship and rights to power that were supposed to have been guaranteed after emancipation with Constitutional Amendments, but clearly with Jim Crow segregation that was not. And so its interested in under Jim Crow segregation the ways in which those space– because they were temporary– were constantly being used to sort of debate at all different levels what what was Blackness, what was black history, but also what was the future of black people’s in the United States? However for that project race and nation were always just a given fully-formed, you know at the turn of the 20th century, you know at post-reconstruction and onward understanding what those terms were and I was interested in what were the histories of that concept and in particular one of the buildings, which is a pavilion that I look at in “Negro Building” which is the Temple of Beauty which was commissioned by W.E.B DuBois and it’s got this weird Egyptian aesthetic and it’s the backdrop for starve Ethiopia and it’s literally a kind of pan-african architecture. And so he’s clearly speaking back and and trying to say, “okay, so this is what a black architecture might be” in relationship to an American architecture. And I kept thinking, “well, why in American architecture do we even take that for granted? Is it already racialized?” And so that sort of led me to think about well, is it? And is DuBois actually speaking directly to Jefferson? Dubois talks about “the veil” Jefferson speaks to “a veil of monotony” in “Notes on the State of Virginia.” So, I’m sort of arguing my introduction that that’s actually a very strong connection that Jefferson just never saw black people as having the capacity or aptitude to become citizens in the US which is why he was an advocate for emancipation. But also the return of black people back to Africa, even though many people had been their families had been in the US for centuries, they were of mixed race whether it was indigenous or European and you know, what would constitute Africanness in that context would have been very complicated. But we end up with Liberia and then also Sierra Leone so that actually does come into fruition. So that project is really an exploration of the question of nationalism and race and using American Civic architecture as a lens to understand that formation.

DMcD: Aha and fascinating. How far along are you?

MW: I am I have two chapters completed. Hopefully we’ll have a manuscript by August of three more chapters. The first chapter specifically on the Virginia State House, which I argue is a model for the U.S. Capitol and for the White House, but even the Virginia State House. It’s a real estate scheme… It’s you know, everything that happens there is exactly the roadmap for how Washington D.C. was chosen, developed, literally clearing the land mapped lot sold off and developed by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and various bunch of other investors.

JP: That’s amazing.

DMcD: Yes, what other what other buildings will figure?

MW: Other key buildings chapter one is on the Virginia State House, chapter 2 is on the design of well, the laying out of Washington DC. So it’s about property and surveying and whiteness. Chapter 3 examines Washington D.C., the construction of the White House, and the. U.s. Capitol, but also trying to understand a kind of cartography of slavery. You know, where were slaves? How did they live? What was the relationship to those people who were politicians, merchants, and others within the city? Chapter 4 looks at the Pennsylvania abolitionist society and Philadelphia that was burned down. And American Colonization Societies. So how do we contend with questions of emancipation? And what were the architectures or cartographies and sites of that? And then the last chapters on the Smithsonian which was a specific question around what style constituted American Civic architecture which chose varied or the European aesthetic in the Romanesque and also the project of the Smithsonian as a now scientific but also scientific racial project to claim and understand America and primitivize Native Americans. So throughout the project is an exploration of the the formation of white identity and relationship to Native American dispossession and black enslavement.

DMcD: Wonderful what are your thoughts when the African American Museum?

MW: Oh, wow, I wrote a book on that. You know, I think the African American Museum is. You know a very important project. I think Lonnie Bunch, Kinshasa Conwill and all those people who really understood what was at stake at putting a building on the National Mall were really smart and strategic around that process and what it meant. And it was clearly part of a hundred year struggle and so my book begin with the past accounts for that struggle, but also sort of talks about the design of the building and how that relates to the sort of project of telling the history of blacks in the Americas.

JP: I wonder maybe that it sort of we want to be mindful of your time to concluding sort of questions. Your project and I know it’s a collaborative venture about “who builds your architecture?” And I know not everything has to be about Jefferson but to what extent this is that does Jefferson inform that? Or did being at UVA perhaps thinking about who builds, you know, the places that we occupy? You know, again, not everything has to be Jefferson he doesn’t have to originate projects and I know it’s collaborative, but I wonder if you can maybe think about that a bit or comment on that on that more of a sort of public facing work.

MW: The who builds your architecture project which looks at the contemporary questions of the exploitation of construction labor, particularly migrant labor around the world, which includes the United States, certainly speaks to my interest in questions of labor which, in particular, like who builds the buildings? Often gets left out because the architects are often seen as the intellectual labor, the creative worker, the creative capital so to speak behind buildings. But the construction that translates the labor that translates that actually into built form is often written out of that equation. So that’s very much a part of my interest in the ways in which for example in slave labor was being used at to build the Virginia State House, but that was also part of the reason I became part of the design team for the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers at UVA was I have been doing this research and it just sort of dovetailed perfectly with questions and things that I was interested in in my own scholarly research versus, you know work that I do as a designer.

JP: Sure, and I guess for archival reasons to do you want to say a few words on the memorial to enslaved labor? In light of the project that sort of we’re doing as well about Jefferson?

MW: Well the memorial to enslave laborers which I’m part of a team of artists and architects and landscape architects and who’ve been working with a great group of the President’s Commission for Slavery at the University which includes faculty staff students community members to sort of remember the enslaved men, women, and children who not only labor to build UVA from day one, but also maintained the buildings and the lives of the faculty and the students and their families that lived at the academical Village till 1865 and they were emancipated and some of whom continue to work there until their death. So that project is an effort to commemorate that history. And I think for many of us it’s been a project of humanizing the enslaved many of whom we have no names, no records of what they did, but only a speculation or projection of you know, the numbers of people who were actually here at UVA working.

JP: Wonderful. Any final thoughts? I know you’ve been very generous with your time and this has been a wonderful conversation as well. I wonder if you have any sort of final thoughts before we let you go.

MW: Yeah, I mean, I would only add that the question around the question of the legacy of Jefferson. I think the United States as a people have have a history of mythologizing our place in the world. We are an exceptional people. We are “the city on a hill.” And I think that that mythologizing of our exceptionalism has always put blinders on to the reality of the viciousness and violence that was a part of nation, of the colonial project in nation building in this country. And I think our failure to reckon with that legacy has produced and continues to maintain the injustice and the inequality in the United States and abroad–you know, if people look at us as a kind of model–and I think the paradox of Jefferson speaks to that and we have to reckon with you know his legacy. And talk about it and if necessary, even monumentalize it so that there is a reminder that we are all humans and we have we fail as much if not more so than we succeed.

McD: Wonderful. That is the fantastic place on which to end the interview,

JP: And we will keep you up-to-date on how this project progresses, but we want to just thank you again for your time and for being with us today.

MW: Yeah. Good luck with everything.

McD: Good luck to you. Okay, bye-bye.

MW: All right. Bye

Lisa Woolfork Transcript

Disclaimer: As with other podcasts, this series is produced for to be heard, not read. We provide the below transcript for accessibility and archival purposes. That being said, we encourage you to listen to the audio, which contains emphasis and inflections not represented in text. The below transcript is generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, thus they may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print. (Note: this disclaimer is adapted from a “This American Life’s” format) 

Indexed Transcript (with audio)


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.

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.

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.

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 and 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.

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.

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.

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 42:00it 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.

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?

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.

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.

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.