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Monticello debuts six new exhibits, hosts gathering of descendants of enslaved families

Visitors invited to ‘Look Closer’ on June 16 at the lives of Sally Hemings, Martha Jefferson, enslaved families and more

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - June 7, 2018
Media Contact: Mia Magruder Dammann, 434-984-7596

Monticello's South WingCHARLOTTESVILLE, VA – On June 16, in conjunction with national Juneteenth events, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello will welcome a gathering of descendants of enslaved families, commemorate 25 years of its Getting Word Oral History Project and unveil new exhibits and restored spaces, including a groundbreaking exhibit on Sally Hemings.

The opening marks the conclusion of a five-year restoration initiative, known as The Mountaintop Project. Initiated by a transformational gift from David M. Rubenstein in 2013, the project has made possible a total of nearly 30 new restored or recreated spaces and exhibits. Iconic rooms, on every level of the house, received updated interpretation or were restored for the first time. On Mulberry Row, buildings were physically and virtually restored or reconstructed. Together, these spaces illuminate the stories of individuals and families, and reveal how the lives of the free and enslaved were interwoven.

“In Jefferson’s words, we ‘follow truth wherever it may lead,’” said Leslie Greene Bowman, president and CEO of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. “This transformation of Monticello – made possible by decades of research, hundreds of descendants and thousands of donors – brings forward a more honest, relevant and inclusive view of our history.”

On June 16, six new exhibits and restored spaces will open for the first time, including:

  • The Life of Sally Hemings – an immersive digital exhibit, anchored in the South Wing where she once lived, that relies on the words of her son, Madison, to explore her life and legacy;
  • The Getting Word Oral History Project – an exhibit on the enslaved families of Monticello and their descendants; 
  • Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson – an exhibit which provides fresh insights into the life of Jefferson’s wife, located in the first building erected at Monticello;
  • The Granger-Hemings Kitchen – an exhibit on Monticello’s first kitchen and new archaeological discoveries that reveal the stories of enslaved cooks, Ursula Granger, James Hemings and Peter Hemings;
  • The Dairy – a restored, period room where enslaved workers made cream, butter and soft cheese for the household; and
  • The Textile Workshop – a restored ca. 1775 structure featuring an exhibit about Mulberry Row and a room depicting the factory where enslaved women and children turned cotton, hemp, and wool into cloth for enslaved people and enterprise.

For years, visitors have learned about Sally Hemings on tours of Monticello. Now, for the first time, her story will have a dedicated physical space on the mountaintop.

“It represents a different chapter in public history at Monticello,” said Annette Gordon-Reed, author of “The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family” and professor of history at Harvard University. “It will have a ripple effect on the way people think about slavery on the mountain overall and that’s actually very exciting.”

To commemorate the occasion and celebrate 25 years of the Getting Word Oral History Project, Monticello is hosting a free public event and a gathering for descendants of enslaved families. The gathering is expected to be the largest reunion of descendants of enslaved families in modern history. 

The “Look Closer” opening event will feature Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Annette Gordon-Reed and Jon Meacham, violinist Karen Briggs, patriotic philanthropist David M. Rubenstein, national policy analyst Melody Barnes and more. Visitors will also have the opportunity to see a rare version of the Emancipation Proclamation, signed by Abraham Lincoln and generously loaned by David M. Rubenstein.  It will be on view in the Robert H. and Clarice Smith Gallery at the David M. Rubenstein Visitor Center from June 11 through July 11, 2018.  

Guests can tour the new exhibits before and after the free public event, which begins at 10:00 a.m. Parking and shuttles to Monticello will be available at Piedmont Virginia Community College. The event will be live streamed for those who cannot attend in person. For more information and reservations, visit Monticello.org/lookcloser.

About The Thomas Jefferson Foundation

The Thomas Jefferson Foundation was incorporated in 1923 to preserve Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, in Charlottesville, Virginia. Today, the foundation seeks to bring history forward into national and global dialogues by engaging audiences with Jefferson’s world and ideas and inviting them to experience the power of place at Monticello. Monticello is recognized as a National Historic Landmark, a United Nations World Heritage Site and a Site of Conscience. As a private, nonprofit organization, the foundation’s regular operating budget does not receive ongoing government support to fund its twofold mission of preservation and education. About 440,000 people visit Monticello each year. For information, visit Monticello.org.

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