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Navigating the Color Line

“A mountain barrier to our progress”:  Frederick Douglass thus described the color line in America.  In generation after generation, Monticello’s African Americans and their descendants experienced this formidable obstacle to the pursuit of happiness.  Many tried to break down the color line, while others chose to cross it.  And some, because of their ambiguous appearance, had to make constant decisions about who they were.

The experiences of Hemings descendants reveal both the significance of light skin and a deeply-felt allegiance to the black community. 

From the mid-19th to the mid-20th century, descendants of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson have chosen to assume white identities in order to escape the constraints of the color line.

African Americans connected to Monticello have felt the dangers and deprivations of racial discrimination in every generation since they achieved freedom.


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