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Paradox of Liberty: Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello

January 18 - April 18

The Paradox of Liberty: Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello, gives voice to the many enslaved families who built and maintained Monticello. It highlights the stories of six families who, along with others, lived in slavery at Jefferson’s home and plantation for generations: Elizabeth Hemings and her children, among whom the most well-known is her daughter Sally; Edward and Jane Gillette; George and Ursula Granger; David and Isabel Hern; and James and Cate Hubbard. These families and their descendants made possible the lifestyle enjoyed by Jefferson, his family and his visitors. In an age of liberty, slavery was legal, acceptable, and a way of life for many Virginians, including those who dwelt, toiled and died at Monticello.

While the story of Monticello is customarily told through the words and actions of Thomas Jefferson, this exhibition upends the typical narrative and tells the story anew through the experiences of the people who labored to make Jefferson’s lifestyle possible.

The Paradox of Liberty brings individuals and families out of the shadows of slavery to add a crucial human dimension long missing from many resources on slavery in the United States. Pulling from more than 50 years of archaeology, documentary research and oral histories, in addition to objects belonging to Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, the exhibit illuminates the lives and work of Monticello’s enslaved men and women.  Museum guests will come to know these people as individuals with names, family connections, values and accomplishments. Throughout the exhibition, visitors will encounter examples of marital and family devotion, religious faith, struggles to gain literacy and education, and the single-minded pursuit of freedom.

BHMVA is proud to partner with Monticello as part of the national tour of The Paradox of Liberty: Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello. The exhibition will inform visitors about the specifics of slavery – a subject too often avoided or given superficial attention – to initiate and facilitate conversations about the history of slavery and racial attitudes in Richmond, Virginia and across the nation.

Along with the exhibition, BHMVA will present community conversations, panel discussions with descendants of the Monticello families, and guided tours for groups.






January 18
April 18