The Jefferson - Hemings ControversyHistory on trial Main Page

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It's a Sally Hemings moment. At the 1992 Jeffersonian Legacy conference at Jefferson's own university, Robert H. Cooley III, suffering "hot waves of resentment and indignation" at the cool, dispassionate academic discourse on the dry seminar topic "Jefferson, Race and Slavery," rises to declare himself a Jefferson-Hemings descendant. "There are hundreds of us," he says, at which the room goes silent: "You could have heard a pin drop on a cotton ball." The Hemings family's emergence from the shadow of Jefferson as a sort of first family of slavery pressuring the official narrative of Jefferson non-involvement till it cracks begins in earnest with this dramatic intervention by Cooley.