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Paradox of Liberty: Slavery at Jefferson’s Monticello

January 18 - November 29

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.

Many thanks to Dominion Energy, our presenting sponsor, for their support of the this exhibition and the mission of the Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia “to preserve stories that inspire.”


Exhibition Sponsors

Dominion Energy

Presenting Sponsor


Altria Group

City of Richmond

Community Foundation for a Greater Richmond

Virginia Tourism Corporation


Bank of America

The Beirne Carter Foundation

Virginia Community Development Corporation

Virginia Humanities

Virginia Lottery




Marguerite Casey Foundation



University of Richmond

Virginia Oral & Facial Surgery


Massie Law Firm

The Honorable Colette Wallace McEachin and

The Honorable A. Donald McEachin

Pendleton Law Team

Silverman Law Firm


Melody Barnes & Marland Buckner

 Johnny & Velvet Newman

 Reynolds Community College

 Richmond Region Tourism

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

Whole Foods Market




January 18
November 29