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The 1997 Gathering

The Getting Word Gathering provided an opportunity to end the silence before it was too late ... to encourage the transmission of information through oral stories.  The telling of stories—the speaking of things and events—was so much a part of African-American experience, there should have been no need to promote it.  There was.  Decades of disbelief and unwelcoming reception had produced a righteous silence that threatened the magic and charm of black orality.  The Gathering would give descendants a chance to speak their ancestors back into existence in the same way the Bible says that God spoke the world into being. -- Dianne Swann-Wright

In the summer of 1997, Monticello hosted a weekend Gathering of Getting Word participants and their families.  Over 110 people attended this memorable event, a milestone in the history of Monticello as well as an experience of tremendous meaning for those present. The first evening of the weekend marked the opening of an exhibit in the Monticello Visitors Center (now closed) displaying some of the results of the project.  This exhibit focused on four themes encountered among descendants of Monticello's African Americans—the importance of family, religion, education, and community service.

At a Saturday night reception on the west lawn of Monticello, the Honorable John Charles Thomas, a member of the Foundation's board of trustees, gave a stirring presentation, which was followed by a ceremony recognizing the enslaved men, women, and children of Monticello through the calling of their names.


The final event was a Sunday worship service at Union Run Baptist Church, founded soon after the Civil War by freedmen, some of whom were born in slavery at Monticello.  Following the service, descendants were able to witness the rediscovery of the gravestone of the church's founding minister, Rev. Robert Hughes, which had been lost for almost twenty years. This unearthing marked the coming together of research through written documents and oral traditions.

One of the founders of the Union Run Baptist Church in Shadwell, Robert Hughes was born in 1824, the son of Monticello's head gardener Wormley Hughes and his wife Ursula. Following Thomas Jefferson's death, the Hughes family lived--still in slavery--at Edgehill, the plantation of Jefferson's grandson Thomas Jefferson Randolph. Shortly after the Civil War, Randolph gave an acre of land to the trustees of church of which Hughes was the first minister, serving for more than thirty years. He was buried in the church's graveyard in 1895.

Following the church service that marked the conclusion of the Gathering, Rev. Hughes's descendant Calvin Jefferson pointed out the general area in which he had seen the grave marker twenty years earlier. Pastor Rickey White, using a metal drumstick to probe the ground, immediately struck the stone that had become covered by soil and grass. Digging with his hands he unearthed the well-preserved memorial marker. The first word to come into view was "MEMORY," part of the phrase "IN MEMORY OF REV. ROBERT HUGHES...." The witnesses in the churchyard, including a number of the minister's descendants, erupted in praise and applause as word of the rediscovery spread.


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