historical fiction, movie material, Sally Hemmings, teen readers, Thomas Jefferson, United States
Although this book has been out for several years, I had not read it. It caught my eye the other day, and I thought I would try it because the students in one of the classes in my town are doing research into African Americans. This is one that should be added to that list – if not required.
It is, of course, the story of the children of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings. However, it is more than that. It is an unusual look into the dichotomy of a man who would pronounce that “all men are created equal” in The Declaration of Independence, post a copy of that document in the lobby of his home, and yet deny his own flesh and blood the parental support that they so desperately wanted.
It is a sobering, eye-opening look into the institution that was slavery in the U.S. The scenes are horrifying in many instances, but they are necessary to present the true picture of life in Virginia during the time of slavery.
The characters are well developed. The author did extensive research into the Jefferson family and slavery, and she did a masterful job in presenting this piece of historical fiction to us. She does not use any dialectal language in the story. The characters come alive and seem very real to any reader precisely because they are not different in speech or behavior. They speak, love, suffer, and die the same as any other person. To do less with them, would be to reduce their humanity.
I did not know that Sally Hemmings was, in fact, a half-sister to Thomas Jefferson’s wife, thus the aunt of his daughter, Martha. Martha tried to pretend that no connection to her family existed between her family and Sally’s. Yet, it was one of her daughters who taught Sally’s children to read and write.
While I knew that a mixed-race child born to a white woman was considered free, although they may still be considered black, and that a mixed-race child born to a slave was considered a slave, I did not know that a person of 7/8 white blood was considered white, but they could also be considered a slave because of the skin tone of their mother. Very confusing to me.
This book is well worth anyone’s time. I highly recommend it. I do not know why it has not been made into a movie.