The National Museum of African American History and Culture, in conjunction with the National Museum of American History, unveiled a new exhibit on Friday that features one of the nation’s Founding Fathers. The exhibit, “Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello: Paradox of Liberty,” turns a focus on the contradictory stances of Thomas Jefferson and his slave ownership.
As the author of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson’s name lives on in lore but his attachment to slaves has never had this much attention applied to it. Founding director of the African American History museum Lonnie Bunch succinctly offered to the Washington Post:
It allows us to centralize slavery.
Jefferson and the lives of six slave families are featured in the exhibit, which lists photos and other documents that recorded the happenings of the Monticello plantation in Charlottesville, Va. Assistant director for curatorial affairs and Colonial historian Rex Ellis gushed about the exhibit, highlighting its one-of-a-kind nature:
This is the best-documented, best-preserved and best-studied plantation anywhere, said Ellis. They have pushed the truth as far as it can go. And it helps us understand Jefferson through a different lens.
Both Ellis and Bunch said the exhibit does not excuse Jefferson of his glaring misstep, remarking he only freed nine slaves in his lifetime. However, one of the slave families went on to forge a strong legacy. A descendant of one of Jefferson’s slaves went on to Harvard and founded the civil rights organization the Niagara Movement in 1905 alongside W.E.B. Dubois.